By Joe Cutts
Sabermetricians will tell you that a ballplayer who has avoided injury over many seasons is likely to continue doing so in future seasons. But the inherent dangers of World Cup racing have finally caught up with the seemingly invincible Lindsey Vonn.
The winner of 59 World Cup races will return home to Vail this week.
“I’ll be doing surgery on her knee early next week,” U.S. Ski Team physician William Sterrett told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
It’s a bad break for the 28-year-old Vonn, who has taken hard knocks before, but never this bad—ACL, MCL, lateral tibial plateau fracture.
In one way it’s the worst of timing—first event of racing’s illustrious World Championships. But it’s the best of timing too—Vonn will miss only the remaining quarter of the 2013 season. Yes, that includes five speed events and two GSs, all tantalizingly winnable for her. But she’ll have a full 10 months to recover before next year’s season-opening speed events at Lake Louise, and two more months after that to fine tune for the Olympics.
Dr. Tom Hackett, orthopedic surgeon at the Steadman Clinic in Vail—and, like Sterrett, a U.S. Team physician—told the New York Times on Wednesday that he sees reason to be optimistic about Vonn’s recovery prospects.
“There’s a very good chance she could return at full force,” Hackett said. “Typically, the ACL alone will keep her out six to eight months, at least at the high, intense level of skiing she’s used to. The MCL can often heal on its own. And a fracture with an ACL is commonly a minor component.”
Vonn’s season may be over, but it was nevertheless a productive one, with six victories. Throw away two poor GS results (Aspen and St. Moritz), and in every other race she either finished in the hunt (a seventh, a sixth, and a fourth) or was gunning so hard she skied out (seven DNF/DSQs). All her podium appearances were top-step.
Now Austria’s Anne Marie Moser-Proll can look forward to another summer as the world’s winningest female World Cup racer, three victories ahead of Vonn. But there’s every reason to believe that when Vonn returns to the snow next year, at the age of 29, she can resume her quest not only for Moser-Proll’s 62-win record, but also Ingmar Stenmark’s truly remarkable record of 86.
It’s a blow to American race fans, but they still have much to cheer. Julia Mancuso captured the super G bronze on Tuesday, an achievement overshadowed by Vonn’s crash. And Ted Ligety, the world’s best GS skier, added a super G world title to his stellar resume on Wednesday.
As Vonn commences her long recovery, World Championship competition resumes Friday at Schladming with the women’s super-combined.