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

U.S. soccer perfect in Olympic qualifying group play, set to learn opponent for Rio berth

U.S. Soccer
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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) — Sluggish in the first half, the Americans needed some kind of catalyst.

So the team called on Jerome Kiesewetter and Jordan Morris, ending their nights off.

Kiesewetter sparked the offense with a goal and an assist in the second half, and the United States beat Panama 4-0 in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying on a rainy Tuesday.

Already through to the semifinal round, the Americans didn’t have much to play for and rested several of their starters. Scoreless at halftime, coach Andi Herzog turned to his bench for a lift, sending in Kiesewetter and Morris.

The U.S. caught a break early in the second half when Panama defender Fidel Escobar knocked in a crossing shot. Kiesewetter then scored about three minutes later and Morris right after that.

Luis Gil wrapped up the scoring by converting a penalty kick, helping the Americans advance out of Group A with a 3-0 record. Canada finished second.

“Overall, in the first half, Panama was not the better team, but created two or three chances,” Herzog said. “After halftime with three goals in 10 minutes, we showed them we’re the better team.”

Next up for the U.S. is an important game Saturday in Sandy, Utah, where the semifinal winners automatically qualify for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next summer. The U.S., which failed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, will play Mexico or Honduras, which face each other Wednesday night with the winner taking over the top spot in Group B.

U.S. goalkeeper Ethan Horvath had a rather quiet game as a steady rain fell most of the evening. He probably needed it as well, since he’s just arriving from his club team in Norway. Herzog had to all but beg Horvath’s club to allow him to travel to the U.S. for qualifying.

It just so happens that Horvath is from nearby Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

“At the end, I can’t make a decision if a player (will play) whether he’s born here or not,” Herzog said. “For me, it was clear that when Ethan was coming and felt fine, I wanted to start him right away.”

Goalkeeper Elieser Powell kept Panama close in the first half with one splendid save after another, including one where he tipped a ball over the crossbar.

Still, the disparity in talent was evident.

“These players have a better future than they have a present,” Panama coach Leonardo Pipino said through an interpreter. “We have to work hard, the federation has to work hard, to have something for them to do, a place for them to go.

“If you look at the U.S. and Mexico start lists, you’ll see players who play in the MLS, who play in Europe. … The federation has to work internally to find a place for them to go so they can continue to progress.”

There was a scary moment for the Americans near the end of the first half, when midfielder Maki Tall was tackled hard from behind and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. He returned a few minutes later, but didn’t play in the second half.

Gboly Ariyibi sent the pass into the middle that hit off Escobar’s leg and went into the goal to start the scoring spree.

With nothing really on the line in this contest, the U.S. gave goalkeeper Zack Steffen and defender Matt Miazga the night off. Midfielder Marc Pelosi didn’t play after needing stitches in his shin following a hard tackle in the Cuba match last Saturday in Kansas City, Kansas.

“We were kind of slow in the first half. They put the pressure on us,” Gil said. “Second half we got things going and once one goal came, three goals came right after it.”

MORE SOCCER: Jurgen Klinsmann’s history at the Olympics, bronze medal

Mary Cain ‘back to basics’ after ‘disappointing year’

Mary Cain
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Mary Cain, who in 2013 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to make a World Championships team and turned pro at age 17 later that fall, is spending her run-up to next year and the 2016 Olympics home in New York rather than returning to Oregon where she went to college and trained last year.

In June, Cain finished eighth in the 1500m at the U.S. Championships, missing the top-four placement necessary to make the World Championships team.

“After a disappointing year, I knew that I needed a change,” Cain said in a blog post Tuesday. “For me, that meant returning home to New York (and its bagels) or where it all started. With 2016 being such an important year, it’s a blessing to be able to, as my mom says, ‘Go back to basics.'”

Cain, who was a freshman at the University of Portland last year, is still coached by three-time New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar with the aid of New Zealand 2004 Olympic 10,000m runner John Henwood, according to the blog.

“We’re trying to get [running] back to fun with her,” Henwood said, according to Runner’s World.

Cain moved from Bronxville, N.Y., to Portland after graduating high school last year, completing a decorated prep career filled with records and state and national titles. She trained with Salazar’s group, which includes Olympic 10,000m gold and silver medalists Mo Farah and Galen Rupp.

Cain won the World Junior Championships 3000m in 2014 and became the youngest woman to make a senior World Championships 1500m final in 2013, when she finished 10th.

“I always said the key to running well was keeping the sport fun,” Cain said in the blog post. “With the help of this great NY running community, I am happy to say that I have found that love again! I’m looking forward to a rewarding Indoor and Outdoor season.

“Thanks to everyone who has supported me through the ups and downs! I hope to make 2016 a year to remember!”

MORE TRACK AND FIELD: Usain Bolt returns to Oktoberfest, with Olympic Alpine skier