Steve Porino: Impact of Lindsey Vonn’s injury

Lindsey Vonn
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With the news of Lindsey Vonn‘s training crash Tuesday, OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi reached out to NBC Olympics Alpine skiing analyst Steve Porino for his observations of what’s next for the Olympic downhill champion.

Porino recently interviewed Vonn for Universal Sports ahead of her planned return to competition at Beaver Creek, Colo., over Thanksgiving weekend.

She is out indefinitely after suffering a partial tear to her right ACL in the same knee she blew out at the World Championships in February, her publicist said Wednesday.

OlympicTalk: How serious is a partial ACL tear for Vonn?

Porino: There’s a whole gamut to a mild tear to your ACL. I think if it’s just that and not more complicated than that, there are a lot of skiers who have skied in that condition. Veronika Velez Zuzulova is trying to compete without an ACL this season.

There are various degrees of a tear. They grade it one (mild), two and three (complete tear). They didn’t say which that is.

OlympicTalk: Can we draw any conclusions without a timetable to return?

Porino: If there’s a silver lining, it’s that she won’t be distracted trying to win the overall World Cup title, when maybe she shouldn’t have in the first place. At this point it looks like there’s really only one thing she can focus on, and that’s the Olympics.

OlympicTalk: Can Vonn still be dominant at a major event without a full season of preparation?

Porino: We sort of got a glimpse of that at the World Championships in February. She had the stomach illness and sat out a long time (racing Dec. 16 and then not again until Jan. 12, three weeks before the World Championships).

She crashed in her first race at worlds, but if we judge her by the first 40 seconds of that super-G (she was .12 of a second behind winner Tina Maze at a split halfway through), we can say she was back and blood thirsty.

Just based on what we’ve seen from her career, that’s the longest we’ve seen her been out and then come back in the same season. If she were to come back a couple of weeks before being 100 percent, that’s doable for her because she’s got a big training block in already (skiing in Chile, Austria and the U.S. since Aug. 31).

OlympicTalk: How prepared is Vonn to handle this mentally?

Porino: As well as I know her and have known her since she was a kid, I think I learned something even in February. Pain is not going to get in her way. Even the specter of long-term injury or long-term repercussions of doing something to her knee, that’s not enough to deter her. She is quite good at ignoring the pain, ignoring the possible consequences and skiing at her best. I think she is actually exceptional in that regard.

OlympicTalk: What about her safety?

Porino: As she’s alluded to, everything’s a negotiation between her and U.S. Ski Team doctor Bill Sterett. We like to think of medicine as hard science, but what she sees in the MRI and what she feels are both taken into account. Nothing really trumps the other.

There are people out there who are going to say she came back too soon. Until you see and look at the crash, it’s hard to know. It’s such a gray area, when to come back. The coach’s job and the doctor’s job will be to tighten the leash on her. That will always be the role. I think that’s the case for a lot of athletes, but particularly her. Tighten the leash and try to err on the side of caution.

Lindsey Vonn, much like she was four years ago (when she went into the Olympics with a bruised shin), is in control her own destiny. A concussion is supposed to be the one area she’s not supposed to control, and she somehow skirted that one at the 2011 World Championships.