Take 2: Vail’s Vonn eyes real downhill training on Friday
AP Sports Writer
WHISTLER, British Columbia – Maybe now Lindsey Vonn can get a real sense of exactly how good her Olympics prospects are.
Maybe now she can truly test where things stand with her badly bruised right shin.
After fretting about the injury, after using painkillers and a Novocaine-like numbing cream to dull the aching, after getting back on her skis and back on a mountain, Vonn still was awaiting a chance to take a full-fledged training run down the Olympic downhill course.
Friday could be the day, weather permitting. Of course, that’s no small caveat around these parts: The final men’s downhill training run was canceled Friday because of overnight rain, and the start of the women’s session was delayed three hours.
Vonn actually did ski down a hill Thursday for the first time since getting hurt Feb. 2, albeit only in a free run and not on the official course. That convinced her she was ready to take part in the opening women’s training session later Thursday, but that practice was called off after only two racers because of thick fog and low visibility.
“I was happy to be back on snow today,” said Vonn, who lives and trains in Vail, Colo. “My shin was still very painful, but I feel like the injury is finally progressing a bit. I am always disappointed when a training run is canceled, but in this situation I definitely welcome the extra day to heal.”
Indeed, her husband, Thomas, called the cancellation “fantastic.”
“It’s not like all her competitors are getting multiple runs down the course. Nobody got to ski it, really, today,” said Thomas Vonn, who serves as a coach and chief adviser to his wife. “So it’s another day of healing, and hopefully tomorrow she feels even better.”
He said she still aims to race in all five women’s Alpine events, which certainly would be a relief to the U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Olympic Committee and her fans – to say nothing of NBC and her various sponsors.
“She’s never taken any races off the table. It’s going to be a day to day: If she can do it, she’s going to do it,” Thomas Vonn said. “But she’s not pulling out of anything at this point, and it’s looking better than it was yesterday.”
U.S. Ski Team women’s coach Jim Tracy was as optimistic as anyone.
He knows full well her history of brushing aside injuries and pain – whether it was making the quick transition from hospital bed to starting gate after a horrific crash in downhill training at the 2006 Turin Olympics, or managing not to miss a single race after badly bruising her arm in December.
Said Tracy of his team’s most famous member: “We’re hoping that she’s going to go full-bore. … We’re not talking about skipping any events. We’re on a normal program.”
And the ultimate decisions about how much to train and compete will be made by Vonn, not the team.
“I’m not going to tell her she can’t race. And I’m not going to tell her she has to race,” Tracy said. “It’s her health.”
Before her injury became known Wednesday, Vonn was widely considered a contender for perhaps three or four medals – and an overwhelming favorite to win golds in the downhill and super-G – and become the breakout star of the Vancouver Games.
The first women’s race of the Olympics, the super-combined, is scheduled for Sunday, and the outlook for Vonn evolved quite a bit in the 24 hours since the two-time World Cup overall champion raised the possibility of not being able to compete at all.
“She had a smile today,” Thomas Vonn said Thursday. “It’s very encouraging. Like, it seems like it’s kind of turning a corner, based off today.”
Lindsey Vonn has been trying all manner of measures to speed the healing process since she banged her boot against her right leg in a headfirst tumble last week during pre-Olympic training in Austria. She tried things as basic as stretching. She tried laser therapy. She even tried wrapping her leg with the Austrian curd cheese topfen to bring down the swelling.
On Thursday, she raised the bar, writing on her Twitter feed in the morning that she “took a bunch” of painkillers and “numbed my shin with some creams.”
Later in the day, Vonn posted on Facebook: “The pain level has gone down from a sharp debilitating pain to something that I feel I may be able to grit my teeth through.”
U.S. Ski Team doctor Bill Sterett’s assessment?
“Everything,” he said, “seems to be resolving.”
Perhaps. But as positive as Thursday’s test was – “It looked solid; she wasn’t limping down the run by any means,” Thomas Vonn said – it’s not nearly as good an indication as an honest-to-goodness training run down the real course would be.
The women’s training was cut short after American Stacey Cook crashed landing a jump and was flown by helicopter to a medical facility. She was released hours later with nothing more than what USOC chief medical officer Jim Moeller called “some pain and stiffness.” The men’s downhillers managed to squeeze in a full training session Thursday, meaning they can race as scheduled Saturday – weather permitting, naturally – even though their Friday practice was canceled.
As much as the Vonns want to know more about the leg’s status, they wouldn’t necessarily mind more snow and fog – and more delays.
“We’ve heard a lot about Whistler weather, and we welcome it at this point,” Thomas Vonn said. “It’s probably not popular, but we welcome it.”
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