Sports

Liguori: Lindsey Vonn Raises The Bar In Toughness

(credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

(credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ann Liguori
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If anyone can come back from a devastating injury, it’s Lindsey Vonn.

Once again, I cringed when I watched the footage of Vonn’s wipe-out earlier this week when she lost her balance in the World
Championship Super G race in Schladming, Austria.  Her knee twisted every which way as she bounced down the mountain. She tore the anterior cruciate ligament and the medial collateral ligament in her right knee and sustained a tibial fracture.

Ouch! The season was over for the four-time overall World Cup champion.

It brought back memories of her treacherous crash during her second downhill practice run at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. It was February 13, 2006. I was in San Sicario, Italy, watching from the broadcast tower at the base of the mountain as the women alpiners took downhill practice runs. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and I was in the Italian Alps covering my sixth Olympic Games. What could be better?

But then Vonn, 21 at the time, in her second Olympic Games (her best finish at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games was sixth in the combined) and an American we all were rooting for, crashed dramatically during her second practice run.

Everyone in the broadcast tower and at the venue gasped as we witnessed her somersaulting down the mountain at spectacular speeds.

It looked almost as brutal as witnessing Austrian Hermann Maier’s crash in the men’s downhill at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano.

The memory of the “Terminator” wiping out is forever etched in my brain. He went wide on a turn, lost his balance, flew way up in the air and then bounced down the mountain on his head and shoulders. His body bended in unnatural positions at lightning speed as he crashed through the netting, finally landing in knee-deep powder. He laid motionless, lifeless. But within seconds he got up and walked away, unscathed! And a few days later, he won the Gold Medal in the Super G and another gold in the Giant Slalom!

What became even more remarkable to me was his sense of humor at a press conference that evening. When a reporter asked him to describe his accident, he answered with his heavy Austrian accent, saying, “I flew 30 feet in the air. It was a good flight but it was not as good as Lufthansa.”

Loved the guy!

After Vonn’s crash in that practice run at the Olympics in Italy, I watched her being airlifted to a helicopter, which took her to a hospital in Torino. Remarkably, two days later, she was back on the mountain competing. Despite a bruised hip and pain, she competed and finished eighth.

From there Vonn has gone on to have a stellar career, becoming the first American woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal in the downhill at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, two World Championship Golds and 59 World Cup wins. She has overcome several more injuries during that time, a divorce and depression.

I saw her at Tim Tebow’s celebrity golf tournament last April, and now she’s rumored to be dating Tiger Woods.

All alpine competitors are fearless and tough, but Vonn raises the bar, both physically and mentally. If anyone can come back from these season-ending knee injuries she can, as she sets her sights on winning Gold Medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

She’s a champion and as determined as they come!

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