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A year out from Sochi, can Lindsey Vonn return?

Published February 5, 2013 5:04 pm

Alpine skiing • Olympic gold medalist has year to recover from knee injury.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A year from now, Lindsey Vonn could very well be preparing to walk through a tunnel and into her fourth Olympics Opening Ceremony, donning the red, white and blue in Sochi, Russia.

But the Olympic gold medalist alpine ski racer certainly faces an uphill battle — potentially the steepest of her storied career.

Vonn, who suffered an ACL/MCL tear as well as a lateral tibial plateau fracture in a Tuesday morning FIS Alpine Ski World Championships super-G crash in Schladming, Austria, doesn't have an exorbitant amount of time on her side as the Sochi Games start 366 days from now.

She will miss the remainder of the 2012-13 World Cup season, and obviously, the remainder of the 2013 World Championships in Austria. A statement by the United States Ski & Snowboard Association said that Vonn, owner of four World Cup overall titles who also has more World Cup victories than any other American female ski racer in the history of the circuit, is expected to return to ski racing for the 2013-14 World Cup season and, more importantly, the 2014 Games.

Roy Trawick, an orthopedic surgeon at TOSH-The Orthopedic Speciality Hospital in Murray who has done hundreds of ACL/MCL reconstructive surgeries, said he believes Vonn will be able to bounce back from what is considered a common injury in the world of alpine skiing.

"I don't have any doubt," he said. "She's at the top of her game and she does not want to go out with an injury. She'll bust her spleen just getting back out there. My hope is that she'll take those first three months easy and let her body heal."

Trawick said the first three months following a major knee reconstruction surgery like one Vonn will undergo are very crucial, adding it's where the renovated tendons and blood vessels will be undergoing a remodeling process that lasts upward of three years. He said his typical return-to-sport timetable after surgery is 6 to 9 months following the injury.

"I think she's obviously in peak physical condition," he said of Vonn, "but it'll be a wise six-month minimum before she gets back out on the slopes."

Dr. Robert Burks, an orthopedic surgeon at the University Orthopedic Center, said the ACL injury has become so commonplace in alpine skiing due to the gravity and force racers put on their knees over a sustained period of time.

"If you're a major racer, the chance of having a major knee injury in high-end racing is very high," said the surgeon of 30 years. "When you are racing at that level and you have to edge, you're driving your knee toward the snow to lay the ski down. Anything that's not right on the inside of your knee is getting stressed."

Tom Kelly, vice president of communications for USSA, listed a number of top U.S. alpine skiers who have bounced back from ACL tears, including Olympians Bode Miller, Picabo Street and Daron Rahlves.

And he expects to write Lindsey Vonn onto that laundry list of alpine skiers who have bounced back.

"Recreational skiers suffer the same injury at the much lower speeds," he said, adding Vonn's surgery has yet to be scheduled as of Tuesday afternoon. "It's going to happen sometimes."

ckamrani@sltrib.com

Twitter: @chriskamrani —

Lindsey Vonn file

Age • 28

Hometown • Vail, Colo.

Career • 2010 Olympic Winter Games gold medalist (Women's downhill) ... 2010 Olympic Winter Games bronze medalist (super-G) ... Four-time World Cup overall champion ... More World Cup victories than any other American ... Twelve years on the U.S. Ski Team