With 78 days until the start of the Sochi Olympics, Lindsey Vonn's next race is against the clock. After suffering a partial tear to the ACL in her surgically repaired right knee will she be healthy enough to compete in her fourth Olympics?
The injury came during training on Tuesday, nine months after tearing the ACL and MCL in her right knee and fracturing her tibia in a brutal crash in Austria.
The most successful female ski racer in American history will rest for a few days and then will pursue aggressive physical therapy, her publicist Lewis Kay said in a statement. How she responds to treatment will determine the next time she is able to compete again.
Of course, no one knows if Vonn can come back just yet, but if her own history is any guide, the best rehab is about five months off the slope. Time Vonn doesn't have. Her other course of action: Continue racing with the risk of completely tearing her ACL again.
Vonn knows what it's like to suffer a partial tear to the ACL in her right knee. She did the same during slalom training in February 2007. After that injury Vonn initially planned on returning in four weeks because the knee did not require surgery. But she changed her mind – not an easy process for someone so fearless – after she met with her doctor.
"He was straight with me and said if I really wanted to, I could race again, but he told me the risk of (completely) tearing my ACL was high," Vonn said at the time, according to the Denver Post. "I don't want that."
"I'm very disappointed because everything had been going so well this season, and it feels OK when I'm walking around," Vonn said. "But pushing myself 80 mph on sections of a downhill is very different, and this is definitely the right decision."
In a diary for the Denver Post in 2007, she wrote that doctors said her injury would heal on its own. "This is my first ACL injury, and I didn't tear it completely, which is really good," she said. "I'm still young and my body heals fast. I'm lucky I don't need surgery … It could be worse, but it's still really disappointing. I thought I had a chance to win the overall World Cup title, so this stinks.
"Usually the recovery time for an injury like this is four to six weeks, and there are only four weeks left on the World Cup schedule. If it hurts or doesn't feel stable, I'm definitely not going to push it."
"I've heard a lot of people have skied with a partial tear, but I'm not going to risk anything."
This time, Vonn may not have a choice given the tight window. If she wants to compete in the Olympics, she may have to risk plenty.
She had planned to race in a World Cup downhill Nov. 29 at Beaver Creek, near her home in Vail.
Vonn is the defending Olympic champion in the women's downhill and a bronze medalist in 2010 in the super-G. She is also one of the biggest stars in Olympic sports. Vonn has sponsorships with Red Bull, Under Armour, Oakley and GoPro among other companies.
A three-time Olympian, Vonn, 29, has said the Olympics were her priority this season. The women's downhill in Sochi is Feb. 12.
"I would love to win as many World Cups as possible but my main focus is definitely on the Olympics," she said before the season. "If I start off slow, it's fine I just want to make sure that by the time I get to Sochi that I'm 100% in those events."
After her knee surgery in February, Vonn has been ahead of schedule in her recovery. She originally expected to be back on skis in November. But she flew to Chile at the end of August and eased back into training on snow.
Vonn has won in all five World Cup disciplines, but coming off the knee surgery she said she planned to compete in the downhill, super-G, giant slalom and super combined. She had trained quite a bit recently in super-G and giant slalom but returned to downhill skis the first week in November.
"I definitely feel like I'm 100% in super-G," she said on Nov. 8 . "Now it's a matter of getting more comfortable with downhill and getting more training days in giant slalom."
Vonn has said boyfriend Tiger Woods has been a constant support during her rehab process, especially since he's gone through it himself for a torn ACL. "He was someone I could always lean on," she said. "He helped me significantly in my return."
The two were on the sidelines of the Denver Broncos game Sunday night.