With Lindsey Vonn’s injury, U.S. medal hopes may take one on the shin
Lindsey Vonn was supposed to be a game-changer at the 2010 Olympics, but the game might have just changed.
On Wednesday, a day before her first scheduled training run in Whistler and in advance of her first of five medal chances -- Sunday’s women’s super combined -- Vonn dropped a black-diamond bombshell.
The most talked-about American athlete entering the Olympics announced she had sustained a shin bruise during a training run last week in Austria, only two days after she had won her ninth World Cup race of the season -- a super G -- in Switzerland.
Vonn so feared the worst that she refused to have her leg X-rayed and kept the injury a secret for eight days.
“I didn’t want to alarm anyone if it wasn’t necessary,” Vonn said.
Wednesday, it became necessary.
Vonn’s moist eyes and the occasional quiver in her voice made clear this was serious. She said it was possible she wouldn’t be able to compete.
Jim Moeller, chief medical officer for the U.S. Olympic Team, said Vonn suffered a “deep contusion on her right lower leg.”
One of the most anticipated training runs in Olympic history will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday. Vonn must start at least one of three training runs to be eligible for Sunday’s super combined -- one downhill followed by a run of slalom.
No one, including Vonn, knows what’s going to happen when she digs into the start gate.
“I think we’ll have a pretty good picture as to how it’s going to look tomorrow,” Vonn said Wednesday.
At this point, anything seems possible. She may be able to ski all five events, as scheduled, or none of them. Because the injury affects her slalom the most, Vonn might consider pulling out of the combined to save herself for next Wednesday’s downhill, where she is the prohibitive favorite.
Dr. Bill Sterrett, a U.S. team physician who has treated Vonn since she was 13, sounded more optimistic during a conference call.
“She’s a tough girl,” Sterrett said. “Never discount how tough she is or how much she wants it.”
Sterrett also said he had no control over Vonn’s decision not to have an X-ray.
“No two ways about it, if she was injured here, it would have been different,” Sterrett said.
If Vonn cannot compete, the women’s Alpine events will become a wide-open battle for the five medals she might have won.
Vonn does not know whether she will take any pain medication, or whether she might add padding to her boot.
She said the pain from the shin is worse than the back injury she suffered four years ago during a training run before the 2006 Olympic downhill in Sestriere, Italy. Vonn returned from a hospital bed to complete her Olympic schedule but did not win a medal.
Only weeks ago, she suffered a left arm bruise in a crash that made it difficult for her to train in slalom.
Vonn was able to fight through that injury and continue to dominate the World Cup speed events.
“It’s not as hard to ski with a wrist injury as it is to ski with a shin injury,” Vonn said.
Vonn appeared visually shaken by her latest bout of injury misfortune. Since her spill at the 2006 Turin Games, she has emerged as a two-time World Cup overall champion and the greatest female Alpine skier in U.S. history.
The only thing missing from Vonn’s trophy case is an Olympic medal.
And now this?
“I was feeling great, I was healthy, no problems,” Vonn said. “Now I’m sitting here today questioning whether I’ll even be able to ski.”
Mental preparation in skiing is almost as important as physical, so this injury has been a blow to Vonn’s psyche.
“It’s hard to stay positive,” she admitted. “It’s hard to focus on just being prepared for the Olympics. It’s definitely changed my whole perspective coming into these Games. And definitely not the place I want to be.”
Vonn said this is different from Turin, when she was just happy to compete after her downhill crash.
The stakes are bigger this time.
“I don’t want to ski to ski,” she said. “I want to ski to win.”
Vonn was taken aback when a reporter asked if she thought some cynics might think she’s using the injury as an excuse in case she doesn’t perform well.
“Wow,” Vonn said. “I actually never thought of that. . . . This is in no way trying to give myself an excuse if I don’t do well. I wish this had never happened.”
The story line on this year’s Olympic Alpine events may turn the first time Vonn tries to make a training-run turn on Thursday.
Vonn: “I’m sure the next few weeks are going to be interesting . . . to say the least.”
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