VAL-D'ISERE - American speed queen Lindsey Vonn failed to put together a winning run for onlooking boyfriend Tiger Woods on Saturday as her unstable right knee gave way halfway down the course. Vonn insisted the incident would not have major ramifications, saying she would race a maximum of two more events before heading to Sochi to defend her Olympic downhill title in February.
But the manner in which her knee failed to provide any stability on a turn coming out of a compression will have worried not only her but the US ski team. Vonn sustained the injury to her knee in a horrific crash in last February's World Ski Championships in Schladming. With reconstructive surgery and 10 months out, it surprised some that she even made it back to competitive skiing this season.
"Unfortunately I have no ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and it just gave out on me," Vonn said, with Switzerland's Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden going on to win the downhill. "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'm going to be as safe and smart as I can and give myself as much time as I can give myself to really get as strong as I can."
Vonn added: "I have no ACL, so unless I get surgery there's not anything really magical I can do to make it better. I can just get my leg and muscles stronger to try to support it 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."
But she insisted that her morale remained high and that Sochi was firmly in her sights. "My goal is the Olympics. I'm not winning any World Cups this year, any titles, as long as I'm skiing well and I have good confidence that's all I really need," she said. "I just need to be careful about how many races I do. I'm at risk of doing more damage to my knee and my meniscus and things like that. So I'm going to play it safe and race minimal races, probably maybe one or two, before the Olympics just so I can get the confidence and the timing and the feeling of racing again."
The onlooking Woods, whose relationship with Vonn was revealed in March, featured regularly on the big screen in the build-up to his girlfriend's run. In brilliant sunshine, the world's number one golfer positioned himself in the team area at the bottom of the slope and kept his eyes straight ahead. When French racer Marie Marchand-Arvier suffered a brutal crash, he visibly flinched and rocked up on his toes.
With Vonn in the starting gate, Woods remained stock still, hands dug deep into his jacket. As she failed to come out cleanly from that compression and missed a gate, there was no reaction from the golfer despite the gasps from the spectators, the giant screen showing a close-up of Vonn slumped on the side of the slope, crying.
"He was nervous," was Vonn's explanation of the statuesque pose taken on by Woods, with camera crews jostling to get a shot of the 14-Major winning golfer. "He's very supportive and it's really fun to have him. This is his first World Cup and he's a little more nervous because of me, he's worried about me but he's happy to be here and I'm happy to have him. I love having him around and the more races he can come to, the better. But I'm not really racing much this year unfortunately so you probably won't see both of us around very much. He likes skiing and he wants to understand my sport more and he's interested in what I do because he loves me and wants to support me."
Vonn said she had felt less pressure with Woods watching on. "Just having someone support you always makes you feel better," she said. "I didn't feel any pressure, I'd had two really good training runs and I felt really confident today and I'm just disappointed because my knee didn't hold up like I was hoping it would."