The knee’s fine, next question please
Caroline Lalive doesn’t want to think about her knee, even though everybody keeps asking her questions about it.
Talk to her about her top-30 finish at Soelden, Austria, in the World Cup season-opener, and the smiley, 24 year old from Steamboat is more than happy to elaborate. Talk to her about the U.S. Women’s Alpine Team’s goals for the 2003-04 season, or her training regimen, or even spear fishing with her boyfriend this summer – anything other than the knee – and Lalive opens up like a housewife on Dr. Phil.
But, ask her about her about her left knee – the one in which she tore her right ACL two weeks after Worlds last year; the one she had to have reconstructive surgery on last March, then follow-up surgery in May – and Lalive is a little more withdrawn, a little less chirpy.
“This is my first major knee injury, my first full reconstruction, so I don’t really have the experience to know.” said Lalive when asked whether or not she is completely back. “I feel like actually right now, I’m skiing better than ever before. I think the biggest thing is, mentally, you don’t give into fear. There’s always the questions, “What if?'”
In the NFL, when a running back tears an ACL, the general consensus is that he won’t return to full form until his second season back. Coaches, trainers and players all agree that the mental skeletons which accompany such an injury are just too much to overcome in the first season back.
It’s not the knee that’s the problem, just the thought of the knee that makes an athlete start to second-guess things.
But what about sweet Caroline?
“I don’t feel like it’s holding me back when I need to give 100 percent,” said Lalive, who had six World Cup top-10s in 2003. “You become wiser. You learn to listen to your body. You know when things are appropriate and when it’s not appropriate.”
And, Lalive also knows that maybe people will stop asking her about her knee, if she keeps skiing the way she did at Soelden, where she finished 28th in the giant slalom.
The U.S. women’s team is looking to continue to chip away at the European block that has dominated World Cup skiing in recent years by following up one top-10 finish at Soelden (Sarah Schleper, seventh) and two in the top 30 (Kirsten Clark 23rd, Lalive 28th) with another strong showing in the Park City, Utah giant slalom and slalom competitions in two weeks.
As Lalive puts it, 2002-03 was a good year for the United States, but what happened last year is old news (knee surgery included), and now that the 2003-04 season is here, there’s no time to get comfortable.
“I think as long as you are motivated to continue to improve and become better and better, there’s no room for complacency,” said Lalive. “It’s cool that, now, within the team, there is a lot of strength and good performances, because then you can measure yourself amongst your own teammates, instead of always having to look elsewhere. Maybe, in the past, there have only been one or two athletes that really were strong. Now, I think the depth is much greater.”
The U.S. team is led this year by veterans Lalive, Kristina Koznick (17 World Cup podiums), Jonna Mendes (six top-10s in 2003), Kirsten Clark (“03 super-G silver medalist) and Vail’s Sarah Schleper (13 top tens in “02 and “03), a group that has a combined 38 years of World Cup experience. So there is no arguing the group’s depth.
The only thing left to question is whether or not the women will let their skiing answer all the questions in 2003-04, instead of being prodded like Lalive has been about her knee.
“I think the team will again be strong in Park City and I’m excited to just build on my performance in Soelden, and get a good start to the season,” said Lalive. “I’m not really focusing on numbers, just because in the past, it hasn’t been very productive for me. So, I’m just going to think more about technical aspects that I want to work on and, you know, I just want to give it my all every race and not hold back.”
Nate Peterson is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 608 or via email@example.com.