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Vonn, who recently underwent surgery on her right knee after a devastating crash last February, said in a statement read on NBC’s Today show that the joint is not stable enough to allow her to compete in the games.
“I am devastated to announce that I will not be able to compete in Sochi. I did everything I possibly could to somehow get strong enough to overcome having no ACL, but the reality has sunk in that my knee is just too unstable to compete at this level,” Vonn said in her statement.
“I’m having surgery soon so that I can be ready for the World Championships at home in Vail next February,” she added. “On a positive note, this means there will be an additional spot so that one of my teammates can go for gold. Thank you all so much for all of the love and support. I will be cheering for all of the Olympians and especially Team USA!”
Vonn is the most accomplished female skier in U.S. history and had hoped to defend her gold medal in the downhill from the 2010 Vancouver games, but she suffered a number of setbacks in her recovery from knee surgery.
Vonn also is one of Team USA’s most popular athletes. Her win in Vancouver was a big story for NBC Sports during those games, and the skier’s performance was a major attraction going into the Olympics, which will air on NBC starting in February. In fact, Vonn even had a starring role in NBC’s promos.
Her departure could shift the skiing spotlight to rising U.S. star Mikaela Shiffrin, who won the gold medal in the slalom at the world championships last year and is set to repeat as world champion in that event. Shiffrin, who’s already been the subject of several media profiles, has been labeled “the next Lindsey Vonn,” but she’s resisted the comparison.
NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus said at Tuesday’s NBC Olympics press conference that the network will change a bit of their promotion and look for the next story, noting that NBC’s Olympics team was upset to hear of Vonn’s withdrawal.
“We’re disappointed for her. She is an Olympic star,” Lazarus said. “How do we adjust? We change a little bit of our promotion. We change a little bit of our coverage. We look for the next story. There’s a lot of depth and a lot of excitement about the [U.S. ski team].”
Asked if she’d be welcome as part of NBC’s Olympics coverage, Lazarus said he suspects her feelings about these games are quite “raw.” So the network will not initiate an ask. But he said that if she came to them and wanted to participate, she would be “welcome.”
Vonn tore her ACL and MCL and fractured her tibia in a crash in Austria in the Alpine skiing world championships last February. After undergoing surgery, she suffered a setback in November when she partially tore one of the reconstructed ligaments in a crash during a training run in Colorado. She also aggravated her knee during a December race in France.
Figure skater and fellow gold medalist Evan Lysacek, who recently withdrew from Sochi because of a torn labrum in his left hip, told Today in a statement that he could empathize with her situation.
“My heart goes out to my good friend Lindsey Vonn,” Lysacek said. “I know how hard she has worked to get back and how much competing in Sochi meant to her. She continues to be an inspiration to so many, myself included. I wish her a speedy recovery.”
Watch Today‘s report on Vonn’s withdrawal below.
Marisa Guthrie contributed to this report.
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