It's a big loss for the fans, who will miss the chance to see one of the greatest female Alpine skiers in history go for her second gold medal. It's a big loss for the Olympics, which just lost one of its biggest stars.
And, most importantly, it's a huge loss for Vonn, who has dedicated her life to the sport and worked so diligently over her whole career, but particularly the last year, to be ready for the games in Sochi.
Vonn is one of the most decorated female skiers in the history of the sport. The three-time Olympian has 17 World Cup titles, 59 World Cup victories and two medals (one gold, one bronze) from the Vancouver Olympics.
But the 29-year-old isn't simply an athlete, she's an idol. Eighteen-year-old American Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who is a medal hopeful in Sochi this year, looked up to Vonn as she was growing up, per Vidya Rao of TODAY.com. Vonn likely would have similarly inspired thousands of young girls watching the Sochi Olympics to pick up a pair of skis and go for their dreams.
Vonn is a household name in a sport that is hungry for them. She has 733,000 followers on Facebook and over 266,000 on Twitter. She's been open with the public about everything from her divorce to her struggle with depression. She's been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and modeled in Vogue. Her sponsors, including Procter & Gamble and Red Bull, have featured her as the star in many promotional campaigns.
Not to mention, her relationship with Tiger Woods makes her a part of a sports power couple that has captivated the TMZ world we live in and taken her fame to new heights.
Simply put, Vonn has been the face of the Sochi games for NBC. While her great athletic ability, inspiring comeback story and medal hopes for the United States will all be sorely missed, her most valuable asset might just be that her greatness and celebrity would have caused more casual viewers to tune in.
That's because she's a rare star that transcends the conventional barriers of the sports world. She appeals to men and women, young and old, athlete and couch potato. She brings us together, which is what sports—particularly the Olympics—are all about.
But, while she will be sorely missed by all in Sochi, we can still be inspired by the perseverance that she showed over the last year.
A little less than a year ago, Vonn crashed during the Alpine World Ski Championships and had to be air-lifted off the slopes in a helicopter after tearing the ACL and MCL in her right knee and breaking her lower leg.
Eleven months removed from one of the biggest competitions of her life, the Sochi Olympics, Vonn refused to feel sorry for herself. Instead, she threw herself right back into rehab and recovery after undergoing extensive surgery to repair the damage.
My colleague, Gabe Zaldivar, documented all the hard work that Vonn put in as she prepared to compete in Sochi.
For a while, Vonn seemed to be ahead of schedule, but things simply didn't go according to plan. On Nov. 19, during a training run as she prepared for her first race back—the Thanksgiving weekend World Cup races in Beaver Creek, Colo.—she fell and suffered a partial tear of her ACL. But even that didn't stop her.
However, her next fall, on Dec. 21 in Val d'Isere, France, proved to be too much to overcome. In the Alpine World Cup races, with boyfriend Tiger Woods looking on, Vonn re-injured her right knee mid-race and had to pull out.
After that race, the usually optimistic Vonn was more forthcoming about the full extent of her injuries (per SI's Tim Layden):
The thing is I have no ACL. So, unless I get surgery, there's nothing really magical that I can do that's going to make it better. I just can get my leg stronger, my muscle stronger and try to support it a little more. But that has a small impact. My knee is loose and it's not stable, and that's the way it's going to be from here on out. I just have to get used to it.
It wasn't until Tuesday morning that Vonn announced on her Facebook page that she will be unable to compete in the Sochi Olympics:
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. I'm having surgery soon so that I can be ready for the World Championships at home in Vail next February. On a positive note, this means there will be an additional spot so that one of my teammates can go for gold.
Despite her obvious disappointment, Vonn was right to look forward to future races that will help add to her already illustrious resume. And though her absence will be felt by all involved in the Olympics, the games will move on.
Other deserving racers will make the team. Other U.S. stars will emerge. Other stories will capture the heart of the public.
But the Winter Olympics in Sochi just won't be the same without Lindsey Vonn.
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