LAKE LOUISE, Alberta — After completing her third race in three days back in December — a trio of tests, 10 months after reconstructive knee surgery and two months before the Sochi Olympics — Lindsey Vonn declared herself ready to go.
Ready to win, actually.
“I’m overcoming a lot and it shows me, mentally, what I’m capable of. I’ve obviously experienced a lot of injuries in my career, but this is definitely at the top of the list,” Vonn said then, raising her hand up near eye level. “Skiing with not very much ACL left — it’s pretty hard-core. ... I’m not going to give up, and I’m going to be in Sochi, fighting for my medal.”
Four weeks later, though, having re-injured her right knee, two-time Olympic medalist Vonn called off her bid to be ready for these Winter Games, reminding everyone what so many ski racers know so well: Theirs is an unforgiving sport. An Associated Press review of the careers of the top 50 in the overall World Cup standings on Jan. 12 — the 25 men and 25 women most likely to earn an Alpine medal in Russia, where the first race is scheduled for Feb. 9 — shows that more than half have missed significant time because of a skiing-related injury.
“She understands that, at some point in time, you’re going to have a serious injury,” said Vonn’s father, Alan Kildow. “It just happened to be before an Olympic year.”
Of the 27 athletes the AP found to have experienced major health issues due to ski accidents, 18 damaged knees, usually tearing a ligament, as happened to Vonn.
There’s a sense of inevitability about it among the elite-level ski racers and coaches, as if it’s a cost of doing business, essentially. If a big injury hasn’t happened yet, the thinking goes, it will.