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

Pressure on Ashley Wagner at world championships

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Ashley Wagner‘s four-year plan has her peaking in 2018, not at the 2017 World Championships, but many call Wagner to carry the U.S. women at worlds in Helsinki next week.

“Next year is the year that I am, like, in it to kill,” she said. “This year is maintaining. This year is my chance to work out all of the kinks, figure out where I want to be mentally going into next year.”

Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist, is the only skater of three American women on this year’s worlds team with prior worlds experience. She is the only one ranked higher than 20th in the world this season.

Normally, figure skating is an individual sport. But next week, the top two U.S. women’s results must add up to no greater than 13 (Wagner places third, and either U.S. champion Karen Chen or U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell places 10th or better, for example).

If not, the U.S. will have two rather than the maximum three women’s entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. The U.S. had three spots at four of the last five Olympics.

Anything less than three in 2018 would mean the U.S. is not keeping up with world power Russia and maybe even Canada and Japan. And it becomes that much harder for Wagner and everyone else to make the Olympic team.

“I know that I have a huge role in these three spots at these world championships,” Wagner said. “I need to set this team up as good as I possibly can, so that way the pressure’s off the other girls.”

The others are the 17-year-old Chen, the surprise winner at the U.S. Championships in January, who then placed 12th at February’s Four Continents Championships, an event that doesn’t include Europeans. Chen said she suffered from nerves, a flu and foot pain caused by broken boots at Four Continents.

And Bell, who took silver at October’s Skate America behind training partner Wagner. Bell, 20, finished sixth at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, where she competed with an amount of pressure she had never before felt.

Of skaters entered at worlds, Bell has the 10th-best total score this season. The skater with the 12th-best total in the worlds field is more than nine points shy of Bell. Chen comes in seeded 16th.

“The tough thing about this worlds is that we have two rookies going into a very stressful event,” Wagner said. “So these two girls are in a really tough position, and I really feel for them. It’s kind of like you have to buckle up and deal with this, and that’s like your only option.”

There is reason for optimism, should Wagner put up something close to the performance of her life from last year’s worlds, where she became the first U.S. women’s medalist in a decade.

“Success in Finland is getting onto that podium,” Wagner said.

But Wagner is nearing the end of her (so far) least impressive season in probably six years. She is seeded eighth at worlds by this season’s top international scores.

She failed to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2011. She was beaten at nationals despite longtime rival Gracie Gold underperforming.

However, Wagner’s goal at nationals wasn’t to win, but to finish in the top three to make the worlds team. She called the runner-up result “perfect.” She focused the last two months on firming up the areas where she lost points.

“Even though to some on the outside looking in, it wouldn’t look like it was the most successful season for me,” Wagner said. “I think at the end of the day this season has been exactly what I needed it to be.”

The favorite in Helsinki is clearly Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who hasn’t lost since November 2015 and can become the first repeat world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001.

Wagner said she hasn’t watched any of Medvedeva’s programs this season.

“The only thing that I know about is her long program music is not my favorite piece of music,” Wagner said, alluding to Medvedeva’s choice of sound from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” a 2011 film relating to the 9/11 attacks. The music includes, at one point, the voice of George W. Bush declaring that two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center.

But Wagner was effusive of Medvedeva, the latest in a string of Russian Olympic and world champions dating to the Sochi Olympics.

“She is a set bar that everybody is chasing after, and I think in years past that bar was always changing,” Wagner said. “Now it’s one set thing I know exactly the quality of skating I have to reach, I know exactly the technical program that I have to be able to accomplish.”

Wagner, a seasoned 25 years old, noted a key point this week. She is the only active women’s skater in her class, with her length of experience, who hasn’t taken a break.

Italian Carolina Kostner is 30, but she’s competing at worlds for the first time since 2014, following two seasons off. Japan’s three-time world champion Mao Asada is 26, but she took a season off after Sochi and this year failed to make the worlds team.

Wagner reflected on her world silver medal and her three national championships. She knows they mean nothing next week.

“I have to prove myself all over again,” she said.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

More Russians retroactively disqualified from 2012 Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Three Russian athletes have been disqualified from the 2012 Olympics after failing doping retests, the country’s track and field federation said.

Hammer throwers Maria Bespalova and Gulfiya Khanafeeva and triple jumper Viktoria Valyukevich were all disqualified. None were medalists.

The disqualifications of Bespalova and Khanafeeva mean all three Russian women who competed in the hammer throw in 2012 have tested positive for doping. Tatyana Lysenko was the original winner, but was stripped of her gold medal in October.

Valyukevich, a former European indoor champion, was eighth in the triple jump at the 2012 Olympics and finished two places ahead of Russian teammate Tatyana Lebedeva, who has been stripped of two medals from the 2008 Beijing Games for doping.

In Tuesday’s statement, Russian officials didn’t say which substances were involved. The International Olympic Committee had no immediate comment.

It is the third time Khanafeeva, who won European championship silver in 2005, has been found guilty of a doping offense. She previously served bans in 2002 for a positive test and in 2008 for providing someone else’s urine in a drug test sample.

Bespalova is currently serving a four-year ban after testing positive for a banned steroid in 2015.

Since the IOC started retesting samples from the 2008 and 2012 Games last year, more than 30 Russians in various sports have tested positive. That makes them the largest group out of more than 100 positive tests. Seven more Russians have been disqualified for other doping offenses.

Russia has lost 26 Olympic medals as a result, most of them in track and field. Many of the cases involve turinabol, a substance which former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov has admitted supplying to athletes in a steroid cocktail.

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