One year and two days before the women's downhill at the Sochi Olympics in Russia, American Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn, whose record breaking ski-racing career has frequently mixed stirring triumph with frightening spills, suffered debilitating injuries to her right leg in a violent crash during a race at the World Championships in Schladming, Austria yesterday — putting her out for the rest of this World Cup season and potentially complicating the defence of her Olympic title.
Vonn, the Minnesota-born skier took a month off this season after being hospitalised for an intestinal illness in November, and had just regained her form with two wins last month.
Tuesday's race, the first of the World Championships, was delayed nearly four hours because of fog. There were more than ten separate delays as officials struggled to get the race in with daylight fading. Vonn led Slovenia's Tina Maze, the best female skier during this World Cup season after the first stage of the race.
Vonn who was the 19th racer out of the starting gate for the second stage, skied well at the top of the course. She led Maze by 0.04 seconds at the first checkpoint, and was just 0.12 seconds back at the second interval, and seemingly on her way to a medal, if not victory!
About 42 seconds into her run, as Vonn made a right-footed turn and arced her skis to the left, she navigated a jump at the same time. Vonn soared above the snow a little off balance with her hands behind her torso rather than in front of her chest, which usually ensures a more stable landing.
Returning to the snow, her right leg splayed briefly to the right and her knee hyper-extended inward and toward the left. She pitched forward at the same time and began to flip forward. Her right ski came off, cartwheeling down the slope after her. Vonn came to a stop a few hundred feet down the slope without making contact with the protective fencing, though she did plough through a gate. She was attended by medical personnel for 12 minutes on the side of the trail and airlifted to a hospital.
Christian Kaulfersch, the assistant medical director at the worlds, said Vonn left the Schladming hospital on Tuesday afternoon and will have surgery in another hospital. "She first wanted to go back to the team hotel to mentally deal with all what has happened."
The Olympic downhill champion will have surgery next week in Vail, Colorado. Due to intense media attention, neither she nor the U.S Ski Team would say when she's leaving Austria.
"She'll be heading back to Vail (Colorado) and I will be doing surgery on her knee early next week," team physician William Sterett told The Associated Press today.
Maze won the race, with Switzerland’s Lara Gut taking silver and American Julia Mancuso, Vonn’s longtime rival, winning bronze.
Vonn has enjoyed a significant amount of media attention for an alpine skier, making her the face of her sport. She has appeared on The Today Show, Access Hollywood, and The Late Show with David Letterman and has picked up endorsements from notable companies such as Head, Oakley, Red Bull, Rolex, and Under Armour.
Vonn appeared in Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition that featured Winter Olympians in 2010. Her assets were estimated to be worth over 2.5 million dollars back in 2010.
Vonn's list of injuries at major championships is long:
Two years ago, she pulled out midway through the last worlds in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, because of a mild concussion.
At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Vonn skied despite a severely bruised shin to win the downhill and take bronze in the super-G.
At the 2009 worlds in Val d'Isere, she sliced her thumb on a champagne bottle after sweeping gold in the downhill and super-G, forcing her out of the giant slalom.
At the 2007 worlds in Are, Sweden, Vonn injured her knee in training and missed her final two events.
At the 2006 Turin Olympics, she had a horrific crash in downhill training and went directly from her hospital room to the mountain to compete in four of her five events.
Lindsey Vonn faces yet another enforced break from her sport, but this one occurs with only a year to go before the Sochi Olympics.
Lindsey Vonn is on pace to become the most accomplished female skier ever. Her career resume is as follows:
- 1984: Born: St. Paul, Minnesota, United States
- 2000: World Cup debut aged 16 in Park City, Utah
- 2002: Competes at Winter Olympics in Utah aged 17 in downhill and combined
- 2004: Claims first World Cup race win at Lake Louise in Canada
- 2008: Wins first World Cup title to become only the second American woman to lift the trophy
- 2009: Wins World Championships in Val-d'Isère, France, and becomes first American to win women's world super-G title
- 2010: Wins gold in the downhill and bronze in super-G at the Vancouver Olympics
- 2012: Regains World Cup overall title