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

Karen Chen breaks U.S. Champs scoring record; Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold trail

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KANSAS CITY — A skater broke the U.S. Championships women’s short program scoring record Thursday night, but it wasn’t Ashley Wagner or Gracie Gold.

Karen Chen, a 17-year-old former junior star who struggled the last two years, tallied 72.82 points at the Sprint Center to lead going into Saturday’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Mirai Nagasu, a 2010 Olympian, is second, .87 of a point behind.

That leaves Wagner and Gold, who combined to win the last five U.S. titles, in third and fifth, respectively.

This is concerning for Wagner (1.88 behind Chen) and Gold (7.97 behind) given U.S. Figure Skating can send three women to worlds in two months. That selection will be made this weekend, primarily — but not totally — based off U.S. Championships results.

Tessa Hong is in fourth place, but at 14 years old is too young for senior worlds.

Full results are here.

Though Wagner and Gold are usually higher placed, the biggest surprise was Chen.

“My body’s still trembling right now,” she said, two hours after her performance.

Chen skated a clean program Thursday, rare for her in the last couple of seasons. Chen burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old two years ago, finishing third at nationals behind Wagner and Gold.

She was too young to be selected for the 2015 Worlds team. Little has been heard from Chen since.

She dropped to eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and came into Kansas City as the seventh-ranked U.S. woman this season. Struggling to find comfortable boots — a common skater problem — has plagued her. She went through 14 pairs in a four-month stretch.

“Everyone has doubts, and I certainly do as well,” said Chen, who choreographed her short program. “But I just kept pushing and telling myself that I’m gaining more experience, I’m learning about everything in the process and I’m just going to keep getting better.”

Wagner bounced back from her last outing — her worst Grand Prix finish in 25 career starts — with a decent program. She needed to save a double Axel near the end of her short. The 2016 World silver medalist was the pre-event favorite.

“People do not understand how difficult of a position I am in,” said Wagner, a 25-year-old bidding to become the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 90 years. “It might seem like I’m on top of the world, or second from being top of the world, but this is a very tough position to be in. It’s mentally been weighing on my shoulders all season. To be able to come out and show people I am a fighter, I’m really proud of that.”

Gold needed to show a fighting spirit given her well-publicized disaster of a fall season. And she did. Her only miss in the short program was doubling a planned triple flip.

“I can feel a huge improvement as a skater. I think everyone can see it,” Gold said. “I have made comebacks before. This doesn’t feel like a major comeback in some ways, because I felt pretty solid. … A long program is worth a lot of points, and I can certainly deliver some good long programs. I kind of feel like I’m due for a good one.”

If Gold doesn’t improve in the free skate, she could be left off the worlds team for the first time in her senior career. However, Gold believes her strong credentials in recent seasons merit consideration.

“We’ve seen different controversies where people aren’t on the [nationals] podium, and they’re still selected for events,” Gold said. “Michelle Kwan has not gone to nationals and been selected for an Olympic team [in 2006]. I believe that I deserve to be on the world team, but I’m not on the selection committee. Of course, every athlete feels like they should be on the world team.”

Earlier Thursday, the pairs short program produced surprise leaders.

The U.S. Championships continue Friday with the short dance and men’s short program. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss wants Russia out of PyeongChang

Women’s Short Program
1. Karen Chen — 72.82
2. Mirai Nagasu — 71.95
3. Ashley Wagner — 70.94
4. Tessa Hong — 65.02
5. Gracie Gold — 64.85

 

Gwen Jorgensen pregnant, to sit out 2017 triathlon season

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: USA's Gwen Jorgensen followed by Switzerland's Nicola Spirig Hug (L) compete in the running portion of the women's triathlon at Fort Copacabana during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 20, 2016.(Photo by Jeff Pachoud-Pool/Getty Images)
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Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen is pregnant and will not compete this year.

“Just kind of take this year a little bit easier,” Jorgensen said in a video posted on Facebook on Thursday.

The baby is due Aug. 3, according to Jorgensen’s social media.

Jorgensen, 30, became the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion in Rio after going in as the heavy favorite. She has said for months that she planned to take time off to have a baby before returning to defend her Olympic title at Tokyo 2020.

Swiss Nicola Spirig, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2016 silver medalist, is reportedly expecting a child in May.

In Jorgensen and Spirig’s absences, the top triathletes going into the season are defending world champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda, U.S. Olympians Katie Zaferes and Sarah True and Britons Vicky Holland and Helen Jenkins.

Jorgensen’s last competition was the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, when she finished 14th in her first running race longer than 10 miles.

The World Triathlon Series kicks off in Abu Dhabi the first weekend of March.

MORE: Triathlon federation boss wants Olympic races shortened