Lindsey Vonn, the defending downhill champion and winter sport’s biggest star, will miss the Sochi Olympics after failing to recover from a knee injury. It is a crushing blow not only to the 29-year-old but also to the US team, US broadcasters and the organisers coming on the day they marked a month to go until the Games begin.
Vonn is skiing’s most recognisable face and one of the few winter sport athletes who transcends their discipline. Her gold in Vancouver four years ago – the first for the US in the women’s downhill – earned her widespread fame at home, a status that was only added to last year when she started going out with Tiger Woods.
Vonn, who also won a bronze in the super-G in Vancouver, tore ligaments in her right knee in a crash at the world championships in February. After undergoing surgery she was out of action for 10 months and then re-tore the repaired ligament in training in November. She still insisted she would make Sochi and returned to compete in World Cup races at Lake Louise in the US last month but then suffered a further injury racing at Val d’Isere – the first World Cup race watched by Woods. On Tuesday, Vonn gave up her struggle to make Sochi and will undergo surgery. She hopes to return for the 2015 world championships.
“I am devastated to announce I will not be able to compete in Sochi,” said the 29-year-old from Colorado. “I did everything I possibly could to somehow get strong enough to overcome having no ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] but the reality has sunk in that my knee is just too unstable to compete at this level.”
In a statement, Vonn’s management team said: “After the incident in Val d’Isere an MRI showed an MCL [medial collateral ligament] sprain which, coupled with the torn ACL, has made it impossible to stabilise her knee and be ready to safely ski again next month.”
The US were the most successful nation on the slopes in Vancouver but their hopes of repeating that feat in Sochi have been badly damaged by Vonn’s withdrawal. Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso, two of their other medal hopefuls, are both struggling desperately for any sort of form. The absence of Vonn will also be keenly felt by NBC; the skier was certain to be the centre-point of their coverage for which they paid $775m.
The organisers marked a month to go by announcing everything was ready and in place for Russia's first Winter Games and first post-Soviet Olympics. It was accompanied by a painful slogan “Hot. Cool. Yours.” Hours later one of their key performers was gone. They will be feeling Vonn’s pain.