Weather disrupts Olympics skiing, giving Vonn more time to recover from injury

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 13, 2010; D07

WHISTLER, B.C. -- The fickle Whistler weather threatened on Friday to overhaul the entire schedule for the Alpine skiing events at the Winter Olympics -- canceling a pair of training sessions and postponing the first women's event, Sunday's super combined. The one person left smiling about it all would be American Lindsey Vonn, the pre-Games favorite who now has at least two more days to rest her badly bruised right shin.

Training for Saturday's men's downhill was canceled Friday, and the women's training session was pushed back an hour, then canceled, because officials could not get the courses clear of new snow.

"The snow that needs to be moved off the course is very heavy and wet," said Riikka Rakic, a spokeswoman for the International Ski Federation (FIS). "It was a safety issue. They could not get the course cleared in time."

The women were originally scheduled for a downhill training session Saturday morning. But because the course will need to be prepared for the subsequent men's downhill -- a task Rakic called "very challenging" -- FIS called off Saturday's women's session as well. Because racers need to start at least one training run in order for an event to be held, and only two women have even taken to the course over the past two days, Sunday's super combined -- a discipline which involves one downhill and one slalom run, and an event in which Vonn is a medal contender -- was postponed.

That means Vonn, a gold favorite in the downhill and super-G who intends to compete in all five disciplines, will have more time to heal. After saying Wednesday that she feared her bruised shin -- suffered in a training accident Feb. 2 in Austria -- might keep her out of the Olympics entirely, the schedule has broken her way, and she has continued to improve.

"We are working on it," said Martin Hager, Vonn's conditioning coach. "It's not fine. It's not perfect. It's getting better and better. The days off, that's good for us. . . . The pain is getting less and less."

The next women's competition isn't until Wednesday's downhill. There are no Alpine medal events scheduled for Monday, and it's possible, weather permitting, the women could train on Sunday and contest the super combined on Monday.

"I think I'm lucking out pretty heavily because of all the cancellations," Vonn, 25, said through a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association spokesman. "Normally, I would be disappointed, but for my shin I think this is the best possible scenario. This gives me quite a bit more time to rest up and heal. Obviously, I'm looking forward to running the course, but at this point, as much rest as I can get on my leg would be great."

However the schedule falls, Vonn's rivals fully expect her to compete in all the events.

"I know this kind of injury," said Germany's Maria Riesch, Vonn's best friend. "I've had it myself a couple of times. It's really painful, especially in the ski boot because you get all the pressure at that spot where you have the injury. But with some pain killers -- and biting your teeth -- it should be okay."

Riesch said Vonn was "feeling better again" on Friday, and that she suspected Vonn would be able to compete "as normal."

Shortly after Vonn left the mountain Friday afternoon, drizzle began to fall. The forecast for Saturday is for a mixture of rain and snow, with more showers possible again Sunday, putting the entire Olympic schedule in flux.

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