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Posted on: Thursday, February 25, 2010

Winter Olympics: Another injury, maybe not another race for Vonn


PAT GRAHAM
AP Sports Writer

WHISTLER, British Columbia Lindsey Vonn began these Olympics with a shin so badly bruised she didn't know if she could compete.

Two weeks, two medals and two crashes later, her Vancouver Games might be finished a race early because of a broken right pinkie.

"I'm just a little bit beat up right now," Vonn said after spinning out of control and slamming into the netting in the first run of Wednesday's giant slalom. "Things don't seem to be quite going my way."

Well, that's not entirely the case. She did benefit from weather delays early in the games, allowing her shin more time to heal. And she did win gold in the downhill and bronze in the super-G.

But Vonn also skied out in the super-combined and then injured her finger when she fell in driving snow and heavy fog during the giant slalom. The second leg was called off and rescheduled for Thursday when the fog became too thick to see the course.

Vonn's chance for another medal, meanwhile, may have to wait for another Olympics.

"I'm disappointed in myself that I made that mistake and I went out of the course," Vonn said. "But I can only keep smiling because I know I was skiing well and sometimes you go down when you're attacking. At this point, I just hope that my finger's OK so I can still race."

The injury was diagnosed as a cracked proximal phalanx of the little finger or the base of the pinkie, where it connects to the hand.

That would certainly make it tougher to grip a ski pole, but Vonn has overcome this sort of thing before.

When she sliced her thumb open on a champagne bottle last February, she raced the rest of the season with her pole taped to her glove.

Her wipeout in the GS caused quite a chain reaction, as officials waved rival and teammate Julia Mancuso off the course while attending to Vonn. Mancuso, the defending Olympic champion in the event, was then brought back up to the top by a snowmobile for another run.

"Hopped on the snowmobile, got halfway up," Mancuso said. "They said that we weren't allowed to snowmobile up higher, so at that point I was like, 'Come on, you guys have got to get me up there.' So we just went anyway."

Such is life for Mancuso, a double medalist who complained that she and other teammates are unappreciated because Vonn gets all the attention.

Indeed, when Mancuso went back after her start-and-stop run, she had to argue her way into the starting gate. She didn't have her credential. Someone had taken it down to the finish area after her initial run.

Exhausted and skiing on a deteriorating course, Mancuso finished in 18th place, 1.30 seconds behind Austria's Elisabeth Goergl.

To reach the podium for a third time at this Olympics, Mancuso has her work cut out. That's a big time deficit.

"It's been kind of a difficult day," said Mancuso, who has already won silver medals in the downhill and super-combined at Whistler. "It was sort of strange because coming down the hill, seeing the yellow flag waving, I was kind of thinking, like, 'Is this really happening?'"

Race director Atle Skaardal defended the way things were handled, including sending the skiers off in shorter intervals to beat the weather rolling in and the decision to split the giant slalom into a two-day race, rather than scrapping Wednesday's results and starting anew Thursday with two runs.

"I don't see why we should cancel the first run," Skaardal said. "It was a fair and good first run. Why should we take it away?"

After finishing her first run, Mancuso remained in the finish area for a little while and then left in tears.

"I know she was disappointed, and I know that she was mad, and probably frustrated, and probably mad at me," Vonn said, holding a plastic bag of ice on her right pinkie. "But I can't help that I fell. I wanted to finish."

Mancuso posted an angry tweet shortly after her run. She later toned it down: "that yellow flag in the GS was such... I just want to scream. I'm really miffed. Anyway, gotta take that energy and focus it for 2nd run."

Later in the evening, once the day's events had played out, Mancuso posted yet another tweet: "been hearing lots of people thinking I'm mad at Lindsey for crashing... thats just ridiculous! bummed about the situation...not Lindsey."

A feud between the U.S. teammates?

Mancuso was quoted by SI.com as saying, "People are having a hard time reaching their potential because it's such a struggle for attention. You come to meetings after races and it's like it's a bad day if Lindsey didn't do well."

Asked about it later, Vonn said: "I try to support Julia as much as I support all the other teammates. I've been racing with Julia since I was a little kid, and yes, we're competitors, but I always support her and it definitely has hurt me that she said some negative things about me, and all I can do is continue to support her like I always have been and hope that she reciprocates that. ... It just bums me out."

At the end of a long and odd day, Mancuso was prodded again to talk about Vonn. She held her tongue.

"Of course, I wish I could have this morning happen over," Mancuso said. "That was probably the worst possible thing that could happen in the Olympics to get flagged on ... your defending gold medal run."

The postponement did at least give Mancuso a little breather. She didn't have to take what would have amounted to a third run.

"I'll be a little fresher," Mancuso said.

The giant slalom is Vonn's worst event she never has finished higher than fourth in a World Cup GS but she began Wednesday's opening leg aggressively, reaching the third checkpoint with more than a third of a second advantage over Goergl.

Then she lost control around a sharp right turn. Her knee slammed against her chin before she crashed backward into the safety netting.

"If she came down holding that lead, that would've been something to talk about," said Thomas Vonn, who serves as his wife's adviser and coach. "It's just unfortunate. You've got to get it through the finish. She did 90 percent of the work and it just fell apart on that one gate. ... It's really frustrating sometimes."

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AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this story.