By Philip Hersh, Tribune reporter
4:47 PM EST, January 7, 2014
Undone by a string of knee injuries that began with a crash at the World Championships last February, Lindsey Vonn has been forced out of next month’s Winter Olympics.
A Tuesday statement from her publicist announced that Vonn, the reigning Olympic downhill champion and most successful alpine skier in U.S. history, would be unable to compete in Sochi.
On her Facebook page, Vonn said: "I am devastated to announce that I will not be able to compete in Sochi. I did everything I possibly could to somehow get strong enough to overcome having no ACL but the reality has sunk in that my knee is just too unstable to compete at this level. I'm having surgery soon so that I can be ready for the World Championships at home in Vail next February."
Her absence deprives NBC of what would have been likely its most hyped and compelling story of the Sochi Olympics: whether Vonn would have been able to race at a medal-contending level, if at all.
It would have been similar to 2010, when she arrived in Vancouver with her status questionable because of a badly bruised shin.
Other than hockey players, Vonn would have been the best-known U.S. athlete in Sochi. Her relationship with Tiger Woods in the past year has elevated her recognition level exponentially.
Vonn’s current knee problems began Feb. 5, 2013, in the Super-G at the world meet in Schladming, Austria. Going off line after a jump, she landed in soft snow, twisting her right knee in a way that tore the anterior and medial ligaments (ACL and MCL) and fracturing the upper tibial plateau.
After a complete knee reconstruction surgery five days later, Vonn began an intense rehab program that got her back on snow by September and had her expressing optimism about being able to ski full-bore at the Sochi Olympics.
But she hurt the knee again Nov. 19 in a training crash at Copper Mountain, Colo., forcing her to postpone her comeback races by one week. That injury was described in a statement as a "mild strain to her right knee, partial tear to her right ACL, minor facial abrasions and scapular contusions."
Vonn, 29, would race three times at Lake Louise, Alberta, the World Cup venue where she has had her greatest success, getting better results each day. She was 40th in the Dec. 6 downhill, 11th in the Dec. 7 downhill and fifth in the Dec. 8 Super-G.
After skipping the next weekend of races, when the World Cup circuit moved to Europe, Vonn would be forced to withdraw midway through a Dec. 21 downhill at Val d’Isere, France, when she came down hard on the damaged knee. Later that day, she indicated that the latest ACL injury was more than a partial tear by tweeting, “Skiing with no ACL is hard.’’
Vonn has not raced since.
The publicist's statement said an MRI after the Val d'Isere incident "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 said in late November she would need more surgery but knew that would knock her out of the Olympics, so she had intended to put it off.
Vonn competed in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics. She also won a bronze medal in the Super-G in 2010.
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