Time will tell if painful shin injury derails Lindsey Vonn's Olympics dream
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — After badly bruising her right shin and jeopardizing her Olympic medal chances in a training mishap nine days ago, Lindsey Vonn underwent all sorts of therapeutic treatments in Austria.
She even had her leg wrapped in topfen cheese, a European folk remedy believed to reduce inflammation.
But she would not submit to an X-ray to determine whether the bone was cracked or fractured. If it was, she didn't want to know.
"I pretty much stuck my fingers in my ears and pretended like I didn't hear what was going on," the Vail resident said Wednesday. "I didn't want to hear that my shin was fractured, because at the time that's what it looked like."
So how does she know it isn't broken?
"I don't know that it's not broken," Vonn said, smiling grimly.
Vonn crashed in slalom training Feb. 2 and suffered a boot-top injury when she toppled forward over her skis, putting the biggest American name in these Games in limbo, not certain how well she'll be able to compete. Barely able to walk for two days, she has not skied since the accident and was examined after arriving here Tuesday by Dr. Bill Sterrett of the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail. She broke the news of her injury on NBC on Wednesday morning.
"I don't think there's any risk that there's a fracture," Sterrett said. "It's not over the bone, it's in the muscle."
Vonn came here as potentially the biggest star of the U.S. Olympic Team, a favorite in two events, a strong contender in a third. Now she's not even sure if she will be able to race.
"It was really scary, and I was very emotional for quite a few days there, but life happens," Vonn said. "Unfortunately it happened right before the Olympics. I hope I'm able to push through the pain and I'm able to still ski OK."
Vonn will know more today after she attempts to participate in an official downhill training run at Whistler. Sterrett sounded optimistic.
"She's a tough girl," he said. "You can never discount Lindsey, how tough she is and how much she wants this."
Four years ago at the Turin Olympics, Vonn had a frightening crash on the second day of downhill training that left her wondering if she had broken her back. She was airlifted off the mountain and rushed to a hospital, and two days later finished eighth in the downhill — even though she was so sore she walked off the mountain looking like an elderly arthritic.
"I have a lot of confidence, knowing that I've done it before," Vonn said of racing with pain. "Torino was a really painful situation for me, and something I wasn't sure if I could even do, but I was able to push through it. I just have to go out there and do the best I can. Hopefully I can ski, hopefully I can ski well, and hopefully I can still get a medal."
This injury may be more problematic, because skiers apply pressure to the front of the boot with their shins when they turn. Vonn's first race, the super-combined, is Sunday. The downhill, her best event, is next Wednesday — 15 days after the initial injury. The super-G, her second-best event, is three days after that.
Slalom figures to be the most painful discipline, which presents a problem because Sunday's super-combined consists of two runs, a downhill and a slalom.
"The downhill is going to be easier than slalom," Vonn said. "It's a little bit unfortunate for me that the super-combined is first."
And there's a big difference between her situation in Turin and where she finds herself today. She went to Turin a contender. She came here acknowledged as the world's best female skier, a two-time World Cup overall champion and the face of the U.S. Olympic Team.
"I wasn't thinking about winning a medal," Vonn said of Turin. "I just wanted to be a part of the Olympics and not give up. Here, I don't want to just ski to ski, I want to ski to win and get a medal."