Lindsey Vonn forced to end World Cup ski season early due to knee injury
Lindsey Vonn's season started late after she broke her ankle in a training crash. It wrapped up much earlier than anticipated because of another wipeout.
This latest spill came with her popularity peaking - she appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue - and another overall World Cup title right there for the taking, too.
Now, the big questions loom: How bad is she hurt and how can she stay healthy for a full season?
After all, Vonn's ailments are piling up like her accomplishments. She announced Wednesday that she was leaving the racing circuit early after an MRI revealed three significant breaks where the shinbone meets the knee joint. She hurt it in a crash over the weekend and competed the next day, when she thought it was only a hairline fracture.
With eight races to go, Vonn leads the overall World Cup standings with 1,235 points, followed closely by Lara Gut of Switzerland with 1,207. Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany is third with 914.
But she's thinking long term.
More specifically, toward the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, next season and the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. To suffer further damage could've led to surgery and possibly been career threatening.
''I cannot take that risk,'' the 31-year-old said on her Facebook page. ''While I am confident that I'm making the right decision, it still doesn't make this decision any easier.''
The four-time overall World Cup champion crashed on Saturday during a super-G race in Andorra after hitting a patch of soft snow. X-rays showed a hairline fracture in her tibial plateau and yet she decided to race Sunday in the combined event, extending her overall lead by finishing in 13th place.
On Wednesday, she revealed the injury was much worse.
''Those images showed that there was not just one hairline fracture, but in fact three,'' Vonn said. ''The fractures are not hairline, but instead they are significant enough that they are not sufficiently stable to permit me to safely continue skiing.''
It's certainly been an eventful season for Vonn - on and off the slope. Sure, she's won plenty of races but she also received quite a few hits on social media after doing pull-ups while wearing body paint on set during the Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot.
Vonn also had a memorable tirade, posting a video in which she destroyed her skis violently with a hammer. That particular outburst came shortly after her ski detached in a World Cup downhill last month and she fell, without serious injury. She quickly erased the posting and apologized to her equipment supplier, Head.
Still, Vonn has had quite a season:
- Adding nine more World Cup wins to her resume to bring the record to 76 and close the gap on the all-time mark of 86 victories held by Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden.
- Winning a downhill in Cortina to eclipse Annemarie Moser-Proell's mark of 36 career wins in skiing's marquee event. Vonn then won a super-G for her 11th career victory at the Italian resort, breaking the record of retired Austrian standout Renate Goetschl.
- Capturing the overall downhill discipline title this season, which was her 20th crystal globe. That broke the mark of 19 held by Stenmark.
''I am very proud of what I have been able to accomplish this year,'' Vonn said.
Her top rival felt her pain.
''It's a real shame that the tense fight for the overall title can't last until the end,'' Gut said in a Swiss ski federation statement. ''I wish Lindsey Vonn a good recovery and a successful return next season.''
This has been a strange season for injuries to some of the circuit's biggest names. Defending champ Anna Fenninger of Austria missed the year with a knee injury, while Olympic and world champion Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. only recently returned after missing a good portion of the season when she tore the medial collateral ligament in her right knee during a training run.
Men's overall leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway was also ruled out for the season with a right knee injury from a crash in January in Kitzbuehel, Austria.
''Pretty unusual ... season with all injuries,'' Slovenian standout Tina Maze posted on Twitter. ''Ah, but life goes on! What to do?''
Vonn's list of injuries over the years is quite extensive. She hurt her knee in training and missed a pair of races at the 2007 worlds, and took a scary fall during training at the 2006 Olympics, then left the hospital to compete.
She raced with a severely bruised shin at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when she won downhill gold. She couldn't defend her crown four years later in Sochi because of a serious knee injury.
Last summer in New Zealand, Vonn broke her left ankle during training camp and it kept her out of the season-opening giant slalom in Austria. Later, she needed stitches in her right thumb after trying to break up a fight between her dogs over a Frisbee.