Kristina Koznick

U.S. skier Kristina Koznick tore ACL, competed at Olympics 2 weeks later

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Kristina Koznick can’t remember the conversation, only the moment she shared with Lindsey Vonn in a hallway at the 2006 Olympic Village.

Koznick, her crutches resting next to a spin bike, struggled just to push the pedal with her right leg and circulate motion. In her toil, she noticed a woman hobbling down the corridor.

They made eye contact. It was Vonn, her teammate back from a hospital after suffering a bruised back and hip in a downhill training crash earlier that week.

“We both kind of chuckled at each other,” Koznick said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We looked at each other, and it was just like, ‘How did this happen?'”

Two weeks earlier, Koznick, the top U.S. slalom racer, skied off a 12-to-15-foot ledge in Ofterschwang, Germany, and tore her right ACL on Feb. 4. She was 30, at her third and final Olympics, and was an outside medal contender, the eighth-ranked slalom skier in the world.

On Feb. 22, Koznick skied. She successfully made it down the mountain in Sestriere, Italy, but that was it. She was in 34th place, 3.5 seconds off the lead and didn’t risk a second run in the Olympic slalom won by celebrated Swede Anja Paerson. (Vonn finished 14th)

Koznick’s injury was first reported to be a partially torn ACL, a vague diagnosis but the same words describing the result of Vonn’s training crash in Copper Mountain, Colo., on Tuesday.

“I live in Vail,” Koznick said two hours after Vonn’s diagnosis was made public. “Doesn’t take long for word to spread around here.”

Koznick and Vonn’s careers have crossed since they were “itty-bitties,” even though they were nine years apart. They developed separately at the same short Minnesota slope, Buck Hill, with the same Austrian-born coach, Erich Sailer.

“She had my poster on my wall,” Koznick said, “so that dates me a little bit.”

They made the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Teams together. Vonn was the up-and-coming speed racer, Koznick the veteran tech specialist.

When Koznick crashed on Feb. 4, 2006, she called Bill Sterett, the same orthopedic surgeon and U.S. Ski Team doctor who operated on Vonn’s blown-out right knee after her World Championships crash in February.

“When he looked at the MRI, it looked like there was a little strand still attached, but when he tested my knee he said he couldn’t feel much of an ACL,” Koznick said.

They knew that would be her final season of ski racing, but Koznick determined she would do anything possible to race 18 days later.

She worked daily with Sterett, a team of doctors and physical therapists. Koznick wore a brown knee brace to act as an ACL, holding her tibia in place.

“At the time, I thought I could do this,” Koznick said. “But [my knee] was always in the back of my head. My brain wouldn’t allow my body to push it to the limits in ski racing.”

Koznick was still on crutches two days before the slalom. Sterett told her she needed to ditch them and test her knee to show she could line up at the start gate.

source: Getty Images
Gold medalist Anja Paerson (left) with Kristina Koznick at the 2006 Olympic slalom.

She made it to race day, still limping. At the top of the mountain, she still believed she could win a medal. She changed her mind shortly after leaving the start house.

“It was obvious from the outset that she couldn’t go, laboring through gates, unable to shift her weight quickly,” the New York Daily News reported from Sestriere.

She crossed the finish, completed media interviews and made her way back to Sterett and her team.

We’re pulling the plug, they told her. It’s too dangerous for you to take another run. You’re not in medal contention.

“I didn’t really [agree], but I didn’t fight it,” she said. “It was their way of releasing me from [making the decision].”

Koznick now raises a 3-year-old girl, Charly, and a 1-year-old boy, Maxwell. She manages a gym with a goal to one day own a gym. She now knows that an error, hooking a gate with the tip of her ski, on that single run in Sestriere could have caused greater knee damage.

But she kept that from entering her mind on Feb. 22, 2006. And she doesn’t regret taking a run down a mountain 18 days after tearing an ACL.

“‘It spoke volumes about me and definitely had shown that I really can do something if I put my mind to it,” she said. “As an athlete, when you’re in it, you believe anything is possible.”

Lindsey Vonn headlines across globe

How to watch Alpine skiing World Cup Soelden on NBC Sports

Mikaela Shiffirn
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Olympic champions Mikaela Shiffrin and Ted Ligety open the World Cup Alpine skiing season in Soelden, Austria, this weekend, live on the NBC Sports app.

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom gold medalist, faces a field including Swiss World Cup overall champion Lara Gut in the women’s giant slalom Saturday.

The first run is at 4 a.m. ET and the second run at 7 a.m. ET, both live on the NBC Sports app.

Ligety, the Olympic and world giant slalom champion coming back from a torn ACL, looks for his fifth Soelden victory Sunday. He’ll go up against home favorite Marcel Hirscher, the five-time reigning World Cup overall champion.

The first run is at 4 a.m. ET and the second run at 7 a.m. ET, both live on the NBC Sports app.

This weekend’s races open a season that will run through the end of March.  U.S. Olympic champions Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso are expected to make their season debuts later this fall.

The world championships are in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in February. The World Cup Finals, the last races of the season, will be in Aspen, Colo., in March.

Day Coverage Network Time (ET)
Saturday Women’s Giant Slalom Run 1 (LIVE) NBC Sports app 4 a.m.
Women’s Giant Slalom Run 2 (LIVE) NBC Sports app 7 a.m.
Women’s Giant Slalom Universal HD 3 p.m.
Sunday Men’s Giant Slalom Run 1 (LIVE) NBC Sports app 4 a.m.
Men’s Giant Slalom Run 2 (LIVE) NBC Sports app 7 a.m.
Men’s Giant Slalom NBCSN 9:30 p.m.

ALPINE SKIING: Men’s preview | Women’s preview

How to watch Skate America on NBC Sports

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 20:  (L-R) Ashley Wagner with silver, Mao Asada of Japan with gold and Elena Radionova of Russia with bronze pose with their medals after the ladies free at Skate America 2013 at the Joe Louis Arena on October 20, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold highlight the field for Skate America, the biggest annual international figure skating competition in the U.S., live on NBC and the NBC Sports app this weekend.

Terry Gannon will be on the call with 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski and two-time U.S. Olympian Johnny Weir.

Competition in Hoffman Estates, Ill., runs from Friday through Sunday. will also have live streaming coverage for subscribers.

Wagner, the world silver medalist, and Gold, the U.S. champion, are joined in Chicagoland by three-time world champion Mao Asada of Japan.

The men’s field is led by world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China, Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and the last two U.S. champions — Adam Rippon and Jason Brown.

U.S. pairs champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea and ice dance champions Maia and Alex Shibutani are also competing.

Skate America is the first of six events in the Grand Prix series, with top skaters competing twice over six weeks looking to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France, from Dec. 8-11. Six per discipline qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

SKATE AMERICA: Preview | Gold mulled skipping GP | Wagner has 2 years left

The broadcast and streaming schedule is here:

Day Time (ET) Program Network
Friday 8:05 p.m. Women’s Short (LIVE)
Friday 10 p.m. Pairs Short (LIVE)
Friday 11 p.m. Women’s Short Universal HD
Saturday 2:05 p.m. Men’s Short (LIVE)
Saturday 4:30 p.m. Women’s Free (LIVE) NBC, NBC Sports app
Saturday 8 p.m. Short Dance (LIVE)
Saturday 9:40 p.m. Pairs Free (LIVE)
Saturday 11:30 p.m. Men’s Short Universal HD
Sunday 12:30 a.m. Pairs Free Universal HD
Sunday 12:30 p.m. Men’s Free (LIVE) NBC, NBC Sports app
Sunday 2:45 p.m. Free Dance (LIVE)
Sunday 9 p.m. Free Dance Universal HD
Monday 8 p.m. Women’s, Men’s Free Universal HD

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule