Olympic downhill champion Lindsey Vonn is expected to be ready for next year’s Winter Games in Russia after tearing two knee ligaments and breaking her leg in a crash at skiing’s world championships, the U.S. Ski team said in a statement.
Vonn was airlifted to a hospital after the accident in yesterday’s super-G race in Schladming, Austria. She tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in her right knee and fractured a bone just below the joint, U.S. Ski Team Medical Director Kyle Wilkens said in a statement.
Vonn, 28, may return to skiing in as little as 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. The Sochi Winter Games start on Feb. 7, 2014.
“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 U.S. Ski Team said in a statement on its website.
Vonn probably will have surgery to repair just the ACL, according to Colvin, who said that ligament is critical for any skier.
“You need it for the cutting and pivoting motions,” Colvin said in a telephone interview yesterday. “If the ACL doesn’t heal properly, she won’t be able to return to skiing.”
The bigger question is the leg fracture, according to Colvin. The Ski Team said the break was a lateral tibial plateau fracture. If the break is minor, as is seen in many ligament tears, Vonn could easily return in time to compete in the Olympics, Colvin 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 American’s right knee appeared to buckle, and she tumbled as she lost her ski.
“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.”
Yesterday’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 2012, 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 0.38 seconds back, while Vonn’s teammate Julia Mancuso, the 2006 Winter Olympic super-G champion, was third, 0.52 seconds behind.
“That was probably the most difficult race I’ve ever had to ski,” Mancuso told Eurosport. She started after Vonn fell.
Roughly 20 centimeters (8 inches) of snow fell in Schladming on Feb. 2, preventing the racers from training on the hill two days ago and leading to thick fog yesterday. 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 was forecast overnight.
Five other racers, including Vonn’s friend and 2010 double Olympic champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, also didn’t finish the race, which was stopped because of fog after 30 skiers had come down.