Lindsey Vonn screamed as she lay motionless in the snow, her face turned away from broadcast cameras after crashing in a World Cup super-G in Andorra on Feb. 27.
“When I was laying there, I knew something bad had happened because I could feel the bone hit bone,” Vonn said in a phone interview while appearing at the ANA Inspiration LPGA major last week. “It was excruciating pain. I was laying there trying to assess in my mind how bad the injury was.”
Vonn soon learned she suffered a hairline fracture of her left tibial plateau. Determined as ever with the World Cup overall title still in play, she drained the knee (we know this from her Instagram video) and raced the following day in a super combined, finishing 13th.
Two days after that, Vonn announced the end of her season after it was found she suffered not just one hairline fracture, but three significant ones.
The decision was difficult.
Vonn had a small 28-point lead in the overall standings with eight races left, nearing what could have been her fifth World Cup overall title and first since 2013 crashes that knocked her out of the Sochi Olympics.
The 2010 Olympic downhill champ said she would have raced through this latest injury if it had been an Olympic year, further risking her skiing career and her ability to walk after she retires.
Vonn still remembers what led to the crash, more than one month removed.
“It was actually the left-footed turn before I crashed where I hit some soft snow,” Vonn said. “I could feel my bone kind of go over my tibia, which is not a great feeling. Then the next turn I fell. It wasn’t the fall itself. It was the turn before.
“I knew that something was really wrong. I’ve had enough crashes in my career to know the difference between a [minor injury] and the real injury.”
Vonn explained the difference between the Feb. 27 crash and her scarier February 2013 World Championships crash.
“When I blew out my right leg, I could definitely feel right away that my knee was loose,” Vonn said. “I didn’t feel that [Feb. 27], so I was hoping I sprained the ligament. I didn’t think that it was an ACL [injury].”
Vonn raced Feb. 28 with braces on both knees and appeared at the World Cup Finals in St. Moritz, Switzerland, two weeks later to pick up her downhill season title crystal globe wearing a black left leg brace on the outside of blue jeans.
She said last week she doesn’t think she’ll race with braces on both knees next season.
“The reason why I wore it in Andorra was I thought I had some issues with my MCL [from the Feb. 27 crash],” Vonn said, “but after I got the MRI, it was just the fracture that was causing so much pain.”
Vonn also said she’s “letting go and moving on” after Swiss rival Lara Gut reportedly questioned the seriousness of the injury after Vonn raced one day following the crash. Gut’s reported comments were made before Vonn’s season-ending diagnosis of three significant fractures.
“I just heard that she had given a television interview with not-very-respectful comments, and it was definitely disappointing that a competitor would say something like that, especially when you’re injured,” Vonn said. “She didn’t apologize, but it’s water under the bridge. I understand things happen in the heat of the season.”