Vonn says she's ready to compete
Vonn suffered a severe contusion to her right shin while training slalom in Austria
She has tried on different occasions to squeeze herself into a ski boot
Vonn told SI that she now feels completely ready to compete
WHISTLER, B.C. -- Late Sunday morning Lindsey Vonn went with her husband, Thomas, to a slushy training hill near the Olympic competition course 75 miles north of Vancouver. She made a few tentative turns and then launched into her first heavy training session on skis since suffering a severe shin injury on Feb. 2 that imperiled her participation in the 2010 Olympic Games.
While Thomas watched, Vonn skied four 50-second slalom runs and shortly after finishing told SI.com that for the first time since her injury, she feels ready to compete. "It definitely went completely better than I anticipated," said Vonn after the session. "It felt good. It was still painful, but I was able to grit my teeth through it.
"I feel more confident now, Vonn added. "I feel like I'm getting into a more aggressive mindset. That's what I need. I need to be in the start house and feel confident that I can trust my body and race aggressively. I'm starting to get that feeling back."
Vonn suffered a severe contusion to her right shin while training slalom in Austria on the morning of Feb. 2. At the time she was training alone with her husband, and it was the first run of her session. A week later in Vancouver she taped an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer in which she told Lauer that it was "excruciatingly painful" just to put her foot in a ski boot. At a press conference later that day, Vonn said it was possible that she would not ski at all in the Olympics, where she is the gold medal favorite in the downhill and the Super-G and a medal contender in combined (a run of downhill followed by a run of slalom).
"Right now I'm definitely a lot more positive than I was at that point," Vonn said Sunday. "When I sat down with Matt Lauer, and when I was doing the press conference that same day, I was not in a very good place. I was honestly questioning in my own mind whether I was going to be able to race in the Olympics. It's been a really rough roller coaster."
Thomas Vonn said, "There was a lot of psychological work in that first week. She's come a long way from there. She pushed it pretty hard today. And we were both pretty happy afterward." Vonn's first scheduled race, on an Olympic program that has been re-configured because of the warm and rainy weather in Whistler, is the downhill on Wednesday morning. That would be followed on Thursday by the combined and on Saturday by the Super-G.
Prior to Sunday's breakthrough session, Vonn tried on different occasions to squeeze herself into a ski boot, with progressively better results, before doing a free-ski run with her husband last Thursday in Whistler -- her first time on skis in nine days. She had planned to ski Sunday's downhill training run, but that run was postponed by overnight rain and snow that left the race course in poor condition.
"When the training run got cancelled," said Lindsey on Sunday, "we just thought it would be good to get up there on the hill and find a way to push it a little bit. Especially in slalom, because slalom is where I put the most stress on the injury and we needed to see how it was going to be for combined.
"My shin has been feeling progressively better day by day, but I wanted to see where it really stood," Vonn said. "I really hadn't skied fast in a long time. I hadn't done a downhill training run. I hadn't done any real training. The free-skiing last week was good, but it's a lot slower than racing or even training."
It was logical for Vonn to train slalom not only because of the importance in testing the effect on her injury, but also because the mountain's snow surface is in such poor shape that there's not an extended area of clean snow in which to simulate a long, speed run. "At this point," said Vonn, "I'm still trying to get my injury better, but I'm changing my focus to making up some of the training days I missed."
Vonn has been living in a four-bedroom condo near the race course in Whistler with her husband and the trio of men she calls Team Red Bull: physiotherapist Oliver Saringer, trainer Martin Hager and team supervisor Robert Trenkwalder.
In the condo they have been using a home theater as a de facto training room for Vonn's treatment sessions. On Saturday night they combined the two uses. "The guys said 'It's Saturday night, let's watch a movie,'" said Vonn. "So we put on Transformers. I was getting treatment for about the first hour of the movie and then just watching for the second hour."