KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – This Alpine skier suffered a torn ACL at the World Championships super-G last February.
This skier underwent surgery, rehabbed and returned to skiing on snow in August.
This skier came back to World Cup racing in Lake Louise, Alberta, and posted improving results in December.
That’s where Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud’s story splits from that of American Lindsey Vonn.
Jansrud placed fourth in the Olympic super combined Friday, five days after winning a bronze medal in the downhill.
“It’s almost unreal being one year away from an ACL injury, and get to hold a medal in my hand,” he told The Associated Press after the downhill.
Vonn can’t describe that feeling.
To be fair, there are more differences between the two skiers.
Most importantly, Jansrud suffered a comparatively simple left ACL tear when he lost his balance, spun and fell to the snow in Schladming, Austria, on Feb. 6, 2013.
The day before, Vonn tore the ACL and MCL in her right knee and had a lateral tibial plateau fracture.
“Her injury was worse,” said Aksel Lund Svindal, another Norwegian Alpine skier. “He tore his ACL, but it was super clean. Everything else was OK. Lindsey’s, that was worse. That was way worse.”
The early worry for Vonn was that she would miss the Olympics. Though Vonn admirably worked her way back into top-five form, she suffered a setback racing Dec. 21 and ended her season, needing another knee surgery.
The noted Liverpool supporter Jansrud never lost sight of Sochi, even in the seconds after falling down in Schladming.
However. Looking at the bright side, I now get a head start on everyone for Sochi.. Tomorrow is the first day of the next season.
— Kjetil Jansrud (@Kjansrud) February 6, 2013
“I knew I was out of the World Champs and out of the season,” Jansrud said. “The goal was always being back at the Olympics. I never doubted that at all.”
On Friday, Jansrud led the super combined after the morning downhill portion. He is a better speed event skier and wasn’t expected to keep his lead after the afternoon slalom.
He finished .59 of a second behind the bronze medalist and matched his best career World Cup super combined finish.
His fourth place was impressive, not only as part of his comeback, but also because he again beat fellow Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, the world’s second-best all-around skier.
Norway has a proud Alpine tradition.
Jansrud, 28, may be taking his turn in the spotlight at these Games, a spot passed from legends Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus to the triple 2010 medalist Svindal, who is 31.
Svindal, a disappointing fourth and eighth in Sochi so far, isn’t surprised that Jansrud is performing so well.
“I’ve skied with him since August, and he’s been good,” Svindal said. “Our job as a team is not to question if he can come back and win races. Our job is to believe in that like it’s the most natural thing.”
Jansrud takes momentum into the super-G on Sunday and the giant slalom Wednesday.
His best event in the 2012 and 2013 seasons was the super-G, before he fell in the race in Schladming.
He won 2010 Olympic giant slalom silver, ahead of Svindal and American Ted Ligety, who is seen as the favorite for gold this year.
Ligety, too, is not surprised at Jansrud’s quick recovery.
“ACL surgery in ski racing is a dime a dozen,” said Ligety, who suffered MCL and PCL damage in 2009. “Every single guy basically out there does that and comes back eight months and is normally just as strong. He’s an awesome skier.”