Lindsey Vonn felt her injured right knee give way, and for a moment it looked like her chances for another Olympic gold might be in jeopardy again.
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Vonn had another scary moment at Saturday’s World Cup downhill in Val d’Isere, ending up clutching her knee in pain after losing her balance and missing a gate. But she gave a reassuring answer shortly afterward, saying no new damage had been done to the surgically repaired knee, and that her plans for the Sochi Olympics were still intact.
"I didn’t hurt myself more than I’m already hurt," said Vonn, the reigning Olympic downhill champion. "It was a small compression, and it was fully loaded on the right ski and my knee just completely gave out. I tried to pressure the ski again and it gave out again. I had no chance of making that gate, unfortunately."
With boyfriend Tiger Woods watching from the bottom of the slope, Vonn skied out after her left ski came up in the air, putting all her weight on the troublesome right leg. The American was clearly distressed after pulling up and looked close to tears as she clutched her knee.
Vonn needed surgery in February to reconstruct two knee ligaments after a crash at the world championships, and then partially re-tore one of them in November.
She said she will now give herself plenty of rest and expects to race again "probably sometime in January" as she follows a light program before the Olympics.
"As much as time as I can give myself to really get as strong as I can, like I said, one maybe two races before the Olympics. That’s it," Vonn said. "I’m going to play it safe and race minimal races, so I can get the confidence and the timing and the feeling of racing again. I’m really going to be safe and smart as I can."
Woods accompanied Vonn to a World Cup race for the first time, wearing light blue jeans, a ski coat, grey ski hat and dark glasses as he stood in the finish area and watched one racer after another go down.
"He’s very supportive and it’s very fun to have him. This is his first World Cup and I think he enjoyed it," Vonn said. "I think he was a little bit more nervous because of my knee. He’s worried about me but he’s happy to be here and I’m happy to have him."
Vonn says that they spoke together after her race.
"He likes skiing. He wants to understand my sport and he’s interested, obviously, in what I do because he loves me and wants to support me," she said. "It’s nice that he’s that excited about it and he wants to learn more."
Schedule permitting, she’d like to Woods come watch her in Sochi as well.
"Yeah. I love having him around and the more races he can come to the better," Vonn said. "But I’m not racing that much this year, unfortunately, so you probably won’t see both of us around very much."
With his hands stuffed in his pockets, golf’s 14-time major champion waited patiently for Vonn, who was the 19th starter.
Shortly after Vonn went out, Woods walked away from the finish area as camera crews scrambled to keep up with him.
"Just having someone supporting you, always makes me feel better," Vonn said. "I didn’t feel any pressure, I had two really good training runs and I felt really confident today and I’m just disappointed that my knee didn’t hold up like I thought it would."
Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden of Switzerland won the race for her first career victory, and was also delighted to see Woods there.
"It’s good for our sport," she said. "It’s perfect when we have a lot of prominent people in the finish area."
Vonn has five World Cup wins in Val d’Isere and also won two golds at the 2009 world championships — but those victories all came on two good knees.
Earlier this month, the 29-year-old American raced for the first time in 10 months. Still, she was buoyant after finishing only 0.04 seconds behind Dominique Gisin of Switzerland in Thursday’s second training run.
"The thing is I have no ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). So unless I get surgery there’s nothing really magical that I can do that’s going to make it better," she said. "I just can get my leg stronger, my muscle stronger and try and support it a little more. But that has a small impact. My knee is loose and it’s not stable and that’s the way it’s going to be from here on out. I just have to get used to it."
She did not regret her decision to race at Val d’Isere, one of the most technically demanding slopes on the circuit.
"I think Val d’Isere was a good place for me to come back to. I’m skiing well, so going forward I definitely have a lot more confidence," she said. "My goal is the Olympics, so I’m not winning any World Cups this year, any titles. As long as I’m skiing well and have confidence, that’s all I really need."