Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press file photo
Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press file photo
Lindsey Vonn’s right knee is healing quicker than her feelings over a World Championships’ race she said should have been called off.
The four-time overall World Cup champion remains unhappy about how she suffered a season-ending injury – two shredded ligaments and a broken bone – at the World Championships in Schladming, Austria. She believes organizers should have postponed the super-G race Feb. 5 because of deteriorating course conditions.
In a conference call Friday, Vonn said she “did not think it was safe” to race on the soft snow and that “athletes’ safety should come first.”
“I do not think the jury made the right call,” said Vonn, who underwent surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament nearly two weeks ago. “It was definitely not safe to run with that fog.”
The start of the super-G was delayed by 3˝ hours because of fog hanging over the course. During that time, conditions dramatically changed, said Vonn, who inspected the hill early in the morning.
Soon after her crash, Atle Skaardal, women’s race director for the International Ski Federation, defended the decision to go ahead with the event, saying, “I don’t see that any outside factors played a role in this accident.”
Vonn disagreed. She hit a jump along the course faster than anyone else and flew a lot farther, landing in a patch of snow that was much softer. Her right ski abruptly stopped, then buckled.
“I feel like that loose snow was 100 percent the reason why I crashed,” she said.
As she lay in the snow, in pain and waiting for a helicopter to lift her off the mountain, Vonn called U.S. women’s head coach Alex Hoedlmoser and told him to inform race officials to stop the competition.
“They apparently didn’t do that,” Vonn said. “I was definitely disappointed they decided to run the race.”
Organizers eventually did stop the event, though not immediately after Vonn’s crash. With conditions varying from racer to racer and the light fading, the race was halted after only 36 of the 59 skiers had come down the hill.
Vonn is on pace to return in time for the 2014 Sochi Games and defend the downhill title she won in Vancouver. She even joked this injury makes her “the underdog now.”
“That will help ease the pressure a little bit,” Vonn said.
Comebacks hardly are anything new for Vonn, who has been plagued by injuries at her last six major championships – from a thumb she sliced on a champagne bottle at the 2009 worlds in Val d’Isčre, France, to a bruised shin that she treated with the unorthodox remedy of Austrian cheese at the Vancouver Olympics.
She’s attacking rehab with the same vigor as if it were a course, going as fast as she’s allowed. She’s attending physical therapy sessions for her knee twice a day, seven days a week. Most of the work involves simple tasks, like moving her knee cap around to gain back motion. She’s also working on her upper body strength, vowing to come back stronger than ever.
“I’m channeling most of my energy into workouts,” she said.
In between sessions, she’s hanging out with her sister, Laura, and watching movies. She’s trying to enjoy the down time she’s never really had.
“It’s a change of pace. But it’s hard for me to sit around,” Vonn said. “I feel pretty helpless sometimes. Going to the gym and staying active, that makes me feel a lot better.”
Although Vonn was open about all things concerning her accident and recovery, she didn’t want to address the rumors that she was dating golfer Tiger Woods. That topic was off limits.
“I’m only two weeks out from the worst injury I’ve had in my career,” Vonn said. “At this point, I’m not going to talk about my personal life.”
As for her emotional state, she said it’s steadily improving. She had a hard time after the accident, especially with her bus so close to the finish line – “I could hear everyone cheering,” she said.
But once she arrived in Vail and had the procedure to fix her knee, she’s quickly perked up.
“I’m in a pretty good state. I’m taking it one day at a time,” she said. “It’s important for me to be really patient. It’s going to be a long process. I’m really looking forward to Sochi, and I’m going to do everything I can to be stronger than I was before. That’s definitely keeping me positive at this point.”
So are all the well-wishers. She’s talked to her teammates, along with exchanging emails with friend and rival Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany.
“It’s just the ACL, which is bad enough, but for sure she will be back,” said Hoefl-Riesch, who is planning a trip to Vail to visit Vonn. “I’m looking forward to seeing her back next winter.”
AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire in Meribel, France, contributed to this report.