Marcus Hayes: Vonn's hopes for U.S. ski team are downright cheesy

American skier Lindsey Vonn shows the area where she suffered a leg injury.
American skier Lindsey Vonn shows the area where she suffered a leg injury.
Posted: February 11, 2010

VANCOUVER - This is Olympic drama, served warm, with a shelf life of 16 days.

Dominant U.S. racer Lindsey Vonn yesterday revealed that she suffered a right shin injury last week, the result of a violent crash during a slalom training run in Austria. It could knock her out of all five races.

She has not skied since the injury. She will try today.

That might be tricky, since, as of yesterday, she could not bear the pain of buckling her ski boot. The injury is right above where the boot's top meets her shin, on the outside of her leg.

This, potentially, is awful news for Vonn, and her team, and her country's medal hopes.

This, potentially, is awesome news for breathless telecasters who now have a live, organic - very organic - layer to the Vonn's rich, deep back story.

Organic, in that it will grow. Like cheese cultures.

Vonn, without the recommendation of team doctors, has been treating her injury by wrapping it with topfen cheese. A mushy delicacy, topfen can be filler for strudel or, in this case, it can be an Austrian home remedy.

As the former, it's delicious.

As the latter, it's not working.

If the miracle cheese comes through, Vonn has a chance to medal in all five races. She is favored to win the downhill, super G and combined.

Go, cheese.

"This is definitely the most painful injury I've ever had," Vonn said at the ski team's introductory press conference. "It's going to be hard. I'm sitting here, questioning if I'll even be able to ski."

Vonn was supposed to be the Great Blonde Hope. She was featured in her full one-piece tuck on the cover of Sports Illustrated's Olympic preview last week, then, in her full two-piece glory in the magazine's swimsuit issue this week.

With her right leg aching, interest in Vonn's anatomy has suddenly become less titilating and more clincal; Great Blonde Hope turned Brave Blonde Hope.

It is a Games without much hope for American figure skaters or hockey players. A stale Games for new fodder among America's elite: snowboard trickster Shaun White and soul-patched speed skater Apolo Ohno are the most famous athletes on the U.S. roster.

Vonn stood as the fresh, mainstream, sellable face. That hasn't changed.

Nothing sells like courage.

And nothing adds tension like ambiguity. After all, how hurt is she?

After the injury, Vonn wouldn't allow medical personnel to X-ray her right shin. She still hasn't been filmed.

"I pretty much stuck my fingers in my ears," she said. "I don't want to get one . . . I don't want to learn that it's fractured."

She has allowed the team doctor to feel it. That's all.

That doctor, Bill Sterrett, looked at her when she arrived yesterday. He said what he felt indicated no break: "It's just not where her pain is," he said.

He also said that her symptoms do not point to nerve damage, that she is improving - 62.5 percent better, she quipped to the doc.

Sterrett quickly added, had Vonn been training in the United States: "No two ways about it. We'd have done an X-ray."

He said he didn't know if she's still using the cheese wrap.

The injury might get smellier, but it won't get any worse, she insisted . . . then, later, allowed that she doesn't know. Really, it can't be known without an X-ray, right?

Heaven forbid, it could snap at any time!

Tune in!

Vonn, 25, the two-time reigning World Cup champion, is medal-less in two Olympic appearances. She races first Sunday, in the super combined. She must at least start at least one of three training runs for that event - for every event, in fact.

She might skip the super combined and its training runs to improve her chances in the four subsequent, the next of which is the downhill, on Wednesday. She might not.

A lot of it depends on the cheese, and such.

She has employed the other modalities, more high-tech inflammation solutions, such as cold-laser therapy, ultrasound and electric stimulus, as well as ice. For now, though, she has stayed off painkillers, in part to gauge the injury's severity. She is allowed to take several types of painkillers but cannot receive the sort of numbing injections that, say, football players routinely get on game day.

The world's most famous shinbone will serve to cast further into shadow bad boy Bode Miller. His Colin Farrell behavior in Turin, combined with his subsequent flops on the hill, have cast him as something of a John Daly sideshow here.

The seeping hematoma will serve to mute criticism of Vonn for her risqué SI shoot; she's the latest in a line of foxy woman athletes using their looks to heighten their fame and, of course, cash in.

The hurt leg makes Vonn a further sympathetic character.

She is estranged from an overbearing sports dad who disapproved of her relationship with fellow skier (and now husband) Tommy Vonn, a teammate on her first Olympic team, in 2002 at Salt Lake City.

She is best remembered for a terrific crash in a downhill training session in Turin, which required helicopter evacuation to a hospital. She stayed overnight - but raced the next day with a bruised hip, a brave performance - her bravest, perhaps, until now.

"I'd say this is worse," Vonn said. Ever genuine, she admitted, "It's hard to stay positive."

She stayed in Austria an extra 3 days. The past week, she said, she was "very emotional. Very scared."

Skiing scared.

Now, there's cheesy drama.

Send email to hayesm@phillynews.com

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