This morning, via Facebook, ski racer Lindsey Vonn announced that she won't be competing in the Sochi Olympics. Vonn, of course, suffered a devastating knee injury in February of last year, tearing the ACL and MCL in her right knee, and also fracturing the lateral plateau in her tibia. She made a valiant effort to return to competition this year, but in November, crashed during a training run at Copper Mountain, Colorado, re-tearing her ACL. She continued to try to race, but in her statement says that, "my knee is just too unstable to compete at this level."
It's absolutely the right call. With 59 World Cup wins, Vonn is just four victories shy of surpassing Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Proll's record of 62 career wins, which would establish her as the most decorated female ski racer of all time. Continuing to race on a bum knee would have put her career in jeopardy. Now, she has time to rehab properly and continue to chase Moser-Proll's record next season.
But make no mistake: Skipping the Olympics isn't just devastating for Vonn—it's a crushing blow to the US Ski Team, Vonn's many sponsors, and, perhaps especially, NBC, the Olympic broadcaster.
Vonn is one of only two A-list celebrities who were to compete in Russia (Shaun White being the other), and her loss means the loss of lots of Olympic story lines. There's no longer a rise-from-the-ashes comeback tale to tell. Vonn's pretty face won't light up any television screens. And there won't be any Tiger watch. All of that likely means that far fewer people will tune into the Games.
If they do, most will be watching skiers they've never heard of before. And though the US Ski Team will miss Vonn's medal potential, her absence will give the organization a chance to shift focus to some of their lesser-known (but incredibly talented) athletes.
Mikaela Shiffrin, just 18 years old, is the favorite to win the women's slalom event, and she could also medal in the giant slalom. Julia Mancuso has also had a knack for nabbing Olympic medals, no matter her form going into the games. She took home gold in 2006 in the GS, and silvered twice, in the downhill and combined, in Vancouver in 2010.
On the men's side, Ted Ligety, one of the greatest giant slalom skiers in history, has a chance to duplicate his performance from last season's World Championship, where he won three gold medals. If he were able to do that in Sochi, it would be the first time an alpine ski racer accomplished that feat since Jean-Claude Killy in 1968. And Bode Miller, who's 36 and skipped last season, is back this year and proving that he can still compete, taking second to Ligety in the Giant Slalom at Beaver Creek in December.
And Vonn will be back. She's far too competitive, too strong, and too determined to stay on the sidelines. And she'll likely surpass Moser-Proll's record. But without her presence in Russia, will anybody remember the Sochi Olympics?