Lindsey Vonn, the Olympic champion who is the best American skier in history, will miss next month’s Sochi Games following the latest injury to her right knee, which will require surgery.

Vonn, 29, was intent on making a comeback from an incident in which she tore two ligaments and broke a bone in her right leg last February. But a pair of setbacks — the first in November while training in Colorado, the second while racing Dec. 21 in Val D’Isere, France — have left her with a sprained knee ligament. She will need more surgery shortly, and skiing the Olympic downhill — in which she won gold four years ago — will be impossible.

“After the incident in Val D’Isere, an MRI showed an MCL sprain, which coupled with the torn ACL, has made it impossible to stabilize her knee and be ready to safely ski again next month,” Vonn’s publicist Lewis Kay said in a statement. “She will have surgery shortly and is expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2014-15 World Cup season.”

The development immediately sucks some star power from the U.S. Olympic team — and from NBC, which will carry the Games from Russia. As a four-time World Cup overall champion and two-time Olympic medalist, Vonn had generated crossover appeal. She is familiar to sports fans who are not necessarily familiar with skiers, appearing on the “Tonight” show and in a variety of ad campaigns. Dating golf star Tiger Woods has also increased her visibility.

The American ski team must now turn to others if they hope to back up their stellar performance from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Veteran Julia Mancuso, who has won three Olympic medals, is struggling thus far this season but has a reputation for bringing out her best performances in the premier events. Mikaela Shiffrin, an 18-year-old from Eagle-Vail, Colo., just won the sixth World Cup slalom race of her young career, and she will go into the Games as a favorite for a medal in that discipline. Shiffrin could also threaten in the giant slalom, though she does not ski the speed events in which Vonn excelled — downhill and super-G.

Vonn was pursuing her fourth Olympic Games, and had she been healthy would have been a favorite for more than one medal. But her crash last February at World Championships in Schladming, Austria, put all that in doubt. Racing in a super-G, Vonn tore her anterior cruciate ligament and her medial collateral ligament and suffered a lateral tibial plateau fracture.

Her intention, from the moment she spoke after the incident, was to return for Sochi, and on her active Twitter and Facebook accounts, she would frequently leave “hashtags” such as #notgivingup to indicate her plans. But her originally scheduled comeback, set for Thanksgiving weekend near her home in Vail, Colo., was delayed when she slightly tore her MCL during a training session. She returned to competition the following week at Lake Louise, Alberta, and skied tentatively in a pair of downhills in order to try to find her footing. She finished a promising fifth in a super-G, then headed to Europe.

But it was clear, even without another incident, that Vonn’s preparation for the Games would be hindered. She planned only to ski intermittently, leaving her form in doubt.

The injury at Val D’Isere that proved her final undoing didn’t look like much. She got wobbly in the middle part of the course, then skied off to the side. Her tears, though, showed the trouble. She skied herself to the bottom of the hill, where Woods was waiting, and told reporters that “It’s really hard to ski with no ACL.” She then flew back to Vail to consult with her medical team.

Now, a month before the Games, the U.S. team is without its biggest star.

“I’m having surgery soon so that I can be ready for the World Championships at home in Vail next February,” Vonn wrote. “On a positive note, this means there will be an additional spot so that one of my teammates can go for gold. Thank you all so much for all of the love and support. I will be cheering for all of the Olympians and especially team USA!”

Superstar athlete needs surgery for injured knee and will not be able to attend the Games. (Reuters)