Olympic downhill champion Lindsey Vonn is expected to return for next year’s ski season and the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, after tearing two ligaments in her right knee and breaking her leg in a crash today at the world championships, her team doctor said.
U.S. Ski Team Medical Director Kyle Wilkens said Vonn tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligament in her right knee and has a lateral tibial plateau fracture, according to a statement on the U.S. Ski website. She fell during her run in the super-G race in Schladming, Austria.
“She will be out for the remainder of this season but is expected to return to racing for the 2013-14 Audi FIS World Cup season and the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi,” the ski team said in the statement.
The Sochi Winter Games start on Feb. 7, 2014.
Vonn likely will have surgery to repair just the ACL and may return to normal skiing activity in six months, according to Alexis Chiang Colvin, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Colvin said the ACL, the more serious of the two tears, is “critical” for any skier.
“You need it for the cutting and pivoting motions,” Colvin said in a telephone interview. “If the ACL doesn’t heal properly, she won’t be able to return to skiing.”
The big question is the leg fracture, according to Colvin. If the break is minor, as is seen in many ligament tears, Vonn could easily return in time to compete in the Olympics, she said. If the fracture is more severe, requiring plates and screws, the recovery could be much longer, according to the surgeon.
Skiing in fading light in a race that began 3 1/2 hours late because of fog, Vonn had the fastest start on the Streicher course. She was in third place when she crashed while landing off a jump halfway through her run. The 28-year-old American’s right knee appeared to buckle, and she tumbled as she lost her ski. She was taken to a hospital by helicopter.
“It was a really bad crash,” 1998 Olympic super-G silver medalist Didier Cuche of Switzerland told broadcaster Eurosport. “She was pushing really hard. She jumped far and she missed the landing.”
Today’s crash ends a difficult season for Vonn. She’s the most successful ski racer of her generation, and is three World Cup victories shy of tying the women’s record of 62 held by Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell.
A four-time World Cup overall champion, Vonn was hospitalized by an intestinal illness in November. At the end of the year, she took a month-long break from skiing to recover and regain her stamina. She’s currently third in the World Cup overall standings, trailing leader Tina Maze of Slovenia by almost 1,000 points.
Maze, who started immediately before Vonn, won today’s super-G in a time of 1 minute, 35.39 seconds. The 29-year-old is the first skier from her country to win a speed medal at the world championships. Switzerland’s Lara Gut finished second at 0.38 second back, while Vonn’s teammate Julia Mancuso, the 2006 Winter Olympic super-G champion, was third, 0.52 second behind.
“That was probably the most difficult race I’ve ever had to ski,” Mancuso told Eurosport. She started after Vonn fell.
After 20 centimeters (8 inches) of snow fell in Schladming two days ago, preventing the racers from training on the hill yesterday, organizers struggled today with thick fog. Poor visibility meant the race didn’t go ahead until 2:30 p.m. local time, and then it was delayed when an official fell and needed to be airlifted to the hospital. More snow is forecast for tonight.
Five other racers, including Vonn’s friend and 2010 double Olympic champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch, also didn’t finish the race, which was eventually stopped because of fog after 30 skiers had come down.