Lindsey Vonn suffers serious shin injury

February 10th, 2010

USA’s Lindsey Vonn has revealed she suffered an "excruciatingly painful" injury to her right shin in a training crash last week at Kaprun, in Austria, and fears the deep bruise might affect her chances for a career-defining gold medal win at the 2010 Winter Games, which begins Saturday at Whistler Mountain, BC, with the men’s downhill race.

In an interview recently aired on NBC's "Today" show, Vonn told host Matt Lauer she eventually could not do one or two of the downhill training runs that come before her first event, the women's Super-combined on Sunday.

"I mean, when I tried my boot on, I was just standing in the hotel room barely flexing forward and it was excruciatingly painful and I've got to try to ski downhill at 75 - 80 miles an hour with a lot of forces pushed up against my shin and I don't honestly know if I'll be able to do it," Vonn said in the interview.

Vonn seems to have suffered what ski racers call "shinbang," a common injury in the sport, caused by the tightness and stiffness of a racer's ski boots, and the leverage exerted upon a racer's shins as they lean forward into their turns. The injury happens when the cuff of the ski boot digs into a racer's shin, resulting in a deep bruise that subsequently makes it painful to put any pressure at all on the cuff of the boot.

Such pressure is an essential component of racing technique, allowing racers to make their hourglass-shaped skis bend and "carve" into the icy snow. ‘Shinbang’ often occurs during a crash, as the bindings fail to release and the ski's tips or tails dig into the snow, creating extreme leverage with the shin as a fulcrum.

Vonn, the two time Overall World Cup champion, is the face of the U.S. Olympic team at the Winter Games. She is a favorite for gold in three of five Alpine skiing disciplines, but as the injury proves, ski racing is a fickle sport where such predictions are fragile.

"I've kind of come up with a couple contingency plans of how we can, you know, best handle the situation to give myself the most time to heal and just keep doing therapy," Vonn told Lauer.

"I don't know how it's going to be and I just have to take it day to day and you know, but I for sure will be racing. I'm going to push through it and I'm just going to do the best that I can."

The injury occurred while training in Austria last Tuesday, Feb. 3. Vonn says Dr. William Sterret, a U.S. Ski Team doctor based at the Steadman-Hawkins clinic in Vail, had told her it may take weeks for the bruise to heal completely. According to U.S. Ski Team spokesman Tom Kelly, Vonn visited with Sterret in Vancouver, where she arrived on Tuesday afternoon.

Vonn sid to Matt Lauer that after the injury she was unable to walk after the injury, and said she delayed her expected return to the United States by four days in order to rehabilitate the injury with the help of a full-time physiological staff provided by her primary sponsor, Red Bull.

"We changed all of our plans," Vonn told Lauer. "We stayed over in Europe an extra four days to do therapy with the Red Bull team and um, we, I was freaking out. I thought that a few days before the Olympics, you know, everything is coming, come crashing down."

Vonn's first medal event is the Super-combined event on Sunday at Whistler Mountain, a few hours north of Vancouver. On Wednesday, the mountain will host the first of three training runs for the men's downhill, a race that comes on Saturday.

A two-time World Champion in downhill and Super-G at Val d’Isère last year, Vonn is participating at her third Olympics this year. She was 17 while competing at Salt Lake City where she ended a promising 6th in Super-combined.

A top favorite in the speed event in 2006 at Turin, she suffered a bad crash during training at Sansicario and was not in her best form for the races. She finished far from the podium in both races.

A year later, she finally managed to clinch her first silver medals at the FIS Worlds at Are where she finished 2nd in downhill and in Super-G. In 2005 she was twice 4th in downhill and Super-combined at Santa Caterina.

This winter, the skier from Vail.Colorado, already celebrated nine wins in the speed events and in Super-combined an clearly leads the World Cup standings in the Overall and three disciplines classifications.

Weather forecast may help her to get ready in time for her main races as it’s supposed to snow heavily this weekend which may prevent the skiers to train properly on the racing slope.