VAIL — Lindsey Vonn is ready to get back on snow.
After suffering a serious knee injury at the World Championships last winter, she’s undergone surgery, done months of rehab and put in hours upon hours in the gym.
“I’ve spent so much time in the gym, I can barely take one more day,” Vonn said.
On Wednesday, she was — surprise — back in the gym in Vail. But she won’t have to wait much longer to get on skis. Vonn has been cleared to return to snow and is headed to Portillo, Chile, on Friday to test out her surgically repaired right knee.
The four-time overall World Cup alpine skiing champion and defending Olympic downhill gold-medal winner suffered a torn ACL and MCL and a lateral tibial plateau fracture in a nasty crash at the World Championships in Schladming, Austria, last February. Her doctor, William Sterett of Vail-Summit Orthopaedics, who performed the surgery, examined the knee Monday and gave her the go-ahead to get back onto skis. Vonn will go to Portillo and begin free-skiing on Sunday.
Vonn was working out Wednesday at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail with her trainer, Martin Hager, of Red Bull. She said her repaired knee feels great and tests show that it is 98 percent as strong as her left knee.
“I obviously missed that first training camp in New Zealand, but I feel like I’m right where I need to be and hopefully the training on snow goes just as well,” Vonn said. “From a physical standpoint, I’m in great shape.”
The scar from the procedure was barely visible as Vonn went through balance, stretching and core exercises with Hager.
“We are happy with her progress,” Hager said, who has been working out with Vonn five to six days per week, three to four hours per day. “Looking good for starting skiing.”
Return for Beaver Creek?
In Portillo, Vonn will start with some easy free-skiing and, if the knee responds well, increase volume and intensity.
“Everything I see about her is that she is so determined to get back out there,” Sterett said. “She doesn’t just want to ski — she wants to start winning. Physically, it’s going at least as well as we could have hoped.”
The 28-year-old Vonn is aiming to return to racing at the women’s Birds of Prey races in Beaver Creek Nov. 29-Dec. 1, where racers will compete on the new women’s downhill course that has been built for the 2015 World Championships. For this season, above all, her sights are set on the Olympics in February in Sochi, Russia. She will be aiming to peak then.
“Of course I want to win in Beaver Creek, that’s my goal, but the main goal for the season is definitely the Olympics,” she said. “So if I don’t start off really well, I’m not going to be that worried about it because I really want to build into it and really be ready for the Olympics.”
Vonn’s relationship with Tiger Woods has brought her a new level of fame and scrutiny. They landed on the cover of celebrity magazines when they publicly announced their relationship in March. Vonn has attended many of Woods’ tournaments for the past several months. She said she’s been struck by how long the tournaments take.
“It’s like a marathon,” she said. “I’m like a sprinter, and he’s a marathon runner. ... Four days and every single shot is important.”
She said she doesn’t read celebrity magazines, and she doesn’t care what they say about her.
“I think that’s one thing I’ve learned from Tiger is to have thicker skin, to be mentally tougher,” Vonn said. “I don’t feel like I’m any different. I don’t feel like I’m more famous now because I date Tiger. I don’t think that at all. I don’t read any of that stuff. It doesn’t bother me because I don’t really care. What I care about is that I’m happy and I’m around people that I love and love me. That’s what’s important.”
Vonn said she is aiming to start training in Colorado as soon as there’s snow to ski on.
“Whenever the first resort opens here, I’ll be here,” Vonn said. “I would much rather be here than going back over to Europe, especially because I’m not doing Soelden (World Cup races in October). The media there is crazy. I’d rather stay at home.”
“I obviously missed that first training camp in New Zealand, but I feel like I’m right where I need to be and hopefully the training on snow goes just as well.” — Lindsey Vonn
U.S. Olympic skier