Lindsey Vonn suffers partial ACL tear, return to competition unclear


Olympic downhill champion Lindsey Vonn, center, is helped off the slope at Copper Mountain, Colo., on Tuesday. Vonn crashed while training ahead of her return to racing following major knee surgery. (Maris Can Slyke/AP)
November 20, 2013

Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn reinjured her surgically repaired right knee during a training crash Tuesday, a development that not only thrusts her scheduled return to competition next week into question, but is one that could hamper her preparations to defend her downhill title at the Sochi Olympics in less than three months.

Vonn, training at the U.S. Ski Team’s speed facility at Copper Mountain, Colo., crashed during a practice session, her publicist and the ski team said. They waited until Wednesday, after she had undergone more tests, to release further information. Lewis Kay, Vonn’s publicist, said in a statement that Vonn had suffered a partial tear to her right anterior cruciate ligament — one of two ligaments she tore in a Feb. 5 crash during the world championships in Austria — among other injuries.

“She needs to rest for a few days and then will pursue aggressive physical therapy and will determine the next time she is able to compete after seeing how she responds to the treatment,” Kay said in a statement.

Asked whether Vonn’s stated goal of returning next week for the World Cup races in Beaver Creek, Colo., had been ruled out, Kay said this was the “only update” her team had Wednesday. Kay’s statement said Vonn also suffered a mild strain to her right knee, minor facial abrasions and scapular contusions (bruises on her shoulders) from the fall.

The ski team’s medical director, Kyle Wilkens, reported in a statement issued through the team that Vonn’s “response to the therapy would ultimately determine the timetable for her return to active training.”

Vonn, 29, is the most decorated American skier in history, winner of four overall World Cup championships — considered the most difficult title to win because it combines results from all of alpine skiing’s disciplines. She not only won the downhill in 2010 at the Vancouver Olympics, a Games in which she battled a painful shin injury, but she took a bronze in the Super-G, skiing’s second-fastest event.

Given her dominance in speed events, Vonn entered 2013 as a favorite to build not only on her World Cup success — she has won 59 races in her career, third most all-time, male or female — but in solid position to take more medals in Sochi.

However, last February’s crash, in which she not only tore her ACL but also her medial collateral ligament and suffered a fractured lateral tibial plateau brought those hopes into question. Vonn, though, was steadfast throughout the summer that she would be back for the Olympics. She appeared at several international golf tournaments following her boyfriend, Tiger Woods, and was walking the hilly course at Augusta National for the Masters in April, when she was still wearing a brace. By July, she joined Woods for practice rounds at the British Open without the brace, anxious to return to training.

She did so in September in Chile, and told reporters later that month that she felt well ahead of schedule. She originally thought she might return to competition for the season-opening races in October in Soelden, Austria, but decided it would be better to train for another month, targeting the Beaver Creek events — the only domestic races on the women’s World Cup circuit.

If Vonn is forced to skip the Beaver Creek races, the next opportunity to compete would come the following week at Lake Louise in Canada, where she has traditionally dominated the competition. The tour then heads to Europe through January.

The first women’s medal event in Sochi is the super-combined, to be held Feb. 10. The downhill follows two days later.

Barry Svrluga is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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Russia 2 11 3 35
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