Lindsey Vonn, two or so weeks after ripping her right knee up in a gruesome fall at alpine skiing’s world championships, said Friday she has no doubt she will be back for the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
It’s a race against time, one that positions Vonn, the 2010 Vancouver Games downhill champion, winner of 59 World Cup races and four World Cup overall titles, not just as an underdog but as the comeback story of the 2014 Games.
She made it plain Friday in a conference call with a group of selected reporters that it’s a race she intends — as usual — to win.
“It all depends on me,” she said. “I have to work hard and take my time and do it right. I can guarantee I will do that.”
Vonn, 28, tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments and broke a lower leg bone during the super-G, the first race run at the 2013 worlds in Schladming, Austria.
She was critical Friday of race organizers. Fog, snow and clouds had made course conditions extraordinarily variable the day of Feb. 5, leaving athletes, coaches and staff unsettled for hours, wondering, obviously, was the race going to be run, or not?
Finally, the race was a go — but, as Vonn noted, she had no idea what the snow itself was going to be like. Instead of being packed icy-hard the way it should be, it was “too soft,” she said, “broken down,” and when she flew too far off a jump, she hit a patch of loose snow, her right knee buckled and — that was that.
As she was lying there in the snow, in pain, she recounted Friday, she told Alex Hoedlmoser, the U.S. women’s alpine head coach, “They should stop the race right there.”
They did not. Ultimately, however, the race was delayed 14 times due to the weather and called after 36 skiers. Tina Maze of Slovenia won, with Lara Gut of Switzerland second and American Julia Mancuso third.
Vonn flew back to the United States and, on Feb. 10, underwent surgery, performed at the Vail Valley Surgery Center by Dr. William Sterett.
It went, she said as expected — the major issue the ACL. The MCL and bone break are, by comparison, relatively minor concerns.
If all goes well, Vonn added, she expects to be back on skis by November.
November? With the Olympics in February?
Perhaps, she said, a little sooner. Then again, maybe a little later.
Not to worry, Vonn said:
“I’m not extremely concerned when I’m going to be back. I just want to make sure that when I do get back my knee is 100 percent. It doesn’t take a lot of training for me to be ready to race again.”
She noted that knee injuries are something of a fact of life in alpine skiing and that she has taken comfort in seeing others — in particular her very good friend, Germany’s Maria Höfl-Riesch, winner of two golds in Vancouver, the 2011 World Cup season overall champion — come back from knee injuries.
Höfl-Riesch told the Associated Press Friday in Meribel, France, that she is making plans to come visit Vonn after the World Cup season ends and expects Lindsey to come back strong:
“She’s totally motivated, and I also know from my own [experience] that it’s not so easy after injury to get full gas again. But I’m sure Lindsey’s so strong she can get this feeling and the risk back pretty soon. Maybe at the beginning the first time on skis it will be difficult for her, too. But not for a long time.”
Picabo Street, one of Vonn’s childhood idols, busted up her knee in December 1996, then came back to win the super-G at the Nagano Games in February 1998. So, absolutely, it can be done.
“Picabo is definitely a great example of that,” Lindsey Vonn said Friday. “As I said, I have no doubt I will be back and be able to ski the same if not better than I did before.”