Quick recovery a common theme for U.S. women
Kristina Koznick, who partially tore knee ligaments during training in Germany just a few days before the Olympics, is still going to compete in the women’s Olympic slalom race on Wednesday. On Saturday, Koznick skied gates for the first time since her Feb. 4 injury, which she calls a “freak accident.”
“It was during the first warm-up run, we had an upper and lower training course,” Koznick said in a phone interview Sunday. “In-between the two courses was a T-bar station. I literally skied off the road. I dropped seven or eight feet onto the Cat track. When I landed, I knew the right knee wasn’t going to be OK.”
Of course, undergoing this sort of hiccup was crushing for Koznick.
“You think you’re dreaming,” she said. “You never think, five days before the Olympics, this is going to happen. Not just because the Olympics are coming, but because this is going to be my last season.”
Koznick has had four World Cup top-10 finishes in slalom this season. She is planning on retiring after the Olympics. Before her injury, she was hoping to end her ski racing career with an Olympic medal. She has been on crutches since the accident and has been forced to modify her expectations.
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“I’ll give 100 percent on Wednesday, but obviously it will be a different type of 100 percent,” Koz said. “Obviously, me being back on snow and fit enough to race is a small success. But all my life, all we do as athletes is throw big goals out there. It would be a fairy tale to come out on Wednesday night and win a medal, but I’m going to ski as fast as I can.”
Lindsey Kildow was forced into a similar mindset of “Why does this have to happen now?” after her horrific crash two days before the Olympic downhill event.
Her struggle to meet her pre-injury hope of winning a medal comes down to mental determination.
“I know she has the ability,” Koz said of Kildow. “I definitely think this last week has been really tough on Lindsey. It’s the same mental challenge that I’m struggling with. Mentally, she needs to be winning a medal in her head, and if she does that, then she will.”
U.S. Alpine Director Jesse Hunt said Kildow was fired up to race before Sunday’s super-G was postponed. Still, he said, physically she is not what she was before her fall.
“She’s banged up after her crash; there’s no doubt that she is a tough competitor,” Hunt said. “She’s not 100 percent physically. Mentally, in a situation like this, if an athlete’s ready to go, that says a lot. Mind over matter.”
Lessons on speedy recoveries can be learned from Vail racer Sarah Schleper. After undergoing major back surgery in November, Schleper came back at the end of December to finish 13th in a World Cup slalom. On Feb. 4, she took ninth in GS, and she will be competing in both of the Olympic technical races this week.
“She has had a great comeback,” Hunt said of Schleper. “She missed most of the early part of the season. Since coming back, she’s been gaining momentum. Historically, she has been one of our top athletes. She’s ranked well, and is in a position to score here at the Games.”
Monday’s postponed women’s super-G will feature Kildow, Julia Mancuso, Kirsten Clark and Libby Ludlow.
Wednesday’s slalom lineup includes Kildow, Koznick, Schleper and Resi Stiegler.
Speculating that her knee will be very swollen and sore after Wednesday’s race, Koznick pulled out of Friday’s giant slalom field. She will be replaced by Truckee skier Stacey Cook. The GS team also includes Mancuso, Schleper and Kildow, who, save any last-minute lineup changes, will be the only U.S. skier on the women’s team to race in all five Olympic events.