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Skier Lindsey Vonn says bruise may keep her from Olympics

U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn answers questions about her injury during a press conference. (Marcio Sanchez / AP)
U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn answers questions about her injury during a press conference. (Marcio Sanchez / AP)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — While people were wondering if Lindsey Vonn's shoulders were strong enough for the Michael Phelps-sized expectations being placed upon them, it turned out to be her right leg that gave out.

Vonn, the world's most dominant skier and one expected to contend for five gold medals at these 2010 Winter Olympics, delivered the Games' first bombshell on Wednesday morning when she told reporters an "excruciatingly painful" right shin bruise might keep her from competing.

"Anytime I'm in my boot; it's painful," the 25-year-old Minnesota native said at a morning news conference. The opening ceremony for the XXI Winter Olympiad are set for Friday night and Vonn's first race is two days later.

The winner of nine World Cup events this season, the most recent in Switzerland on Jan. 31, Vonn hurt herself Feb. 2 during a practice run with the U.S. team in Austria. She said her right leg gave way, banged the hard surface and rolled beneath her.

Afterward, instead of traveling to Whistler, the Vancouver Games' ski venue, as she had planned, Vonn stayed in Europe, taking painkillers and rehabilitating. She arrived here Tuesday night, met at the airport by a media mob that knew nothing of her ailment.

She revealed it earlier Wednesday on NBC, the network that has been ballyhooing the tall blonde as the glamorous face of these Olympics and of its extensive coverage.

Wednesday morning in her Vancouver hotel room, she tried to put on a ski boot.

"I was just standing there, barely flexing forward, and it was excruciatingly painful," she said. "And I've got to try to ski downhill at 75, 80 miles an hour with a lot of forces pushed up against my shin. I don't know, honestly, if I'll be able to do it."

Vonn may get her answer Thursday during the first of three practice runs for Sunday's Super Combined Slalom, the initial women's event. Entrants must complete at least one practice session to qualify and Vonn had hoped to get in two.

"I'm going to go up there," she said. "I'm going to put my skis on and see how it feels. ... I won the last World Cup race. I felt perfectly healthy, I was happy, I was coming in with confidence, and now I have another injury."

William Sterett, the U.S. ski team physician, said he had examined the ski star and he predicted the deep muscle bruise that covers a six-inch portion of the leg could take several weeks to heal. He said he had drained fluid from the leg.

"The muscle is bleeding and it's really deep inside the muscle," she said.

Vonn refused to get X-rays because, she said, she didn't want to know if she'd broken a bone so close to the Olympics, her third as a member of the U.S. team.

"I didn't want to hear my shin was fractured. If my shin was fractured I wouldn't be skiing for the rest of the season," she said, adding that her doctors believed the bone was stable enough for her to race.

Olympic antidoping guidelines permit the skier to continue taking painkillers but she could not receive an injection that might dull the pain more effectively.

"This is definitely the most painful injury I've ever had," Vonn said. "It's hard to stay positive. It's hard to focus on being prepared for the Olympics when you have an injury like this. Three days ago I would have said absolutely not (racing Sunday). It feels better. I'm optimistic but not sure."

Vonn has been injured several times in her career, including at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. There, she crashed and damaged her hip in a training run for the downhill, her strongest event. She was helicoptered to a nearby hospital but two days later raced, finishing eighth. This injury, she said, was more constricting.

"You feel it every time you turn," she said.

The pre-Olympic hype Vonn has generated led to some questions that clearly were uncomfortable for her to answer. She has been the world's best skier almost since the moment the Turin Games concluded in February 2006. She was on the U.S. cover of Sports Illustrated's Olympic preview edition and appeared in its swimsuit issue.

One reporter suggested that perhaps the injury had provided her with a built-in excuse should she fail to meet expectations here.

"Wow," Vonn said, before adding, "definitely not."

Another asked if, given all the pre-Olympic speculation about her possible medal count, she felt that she were the Phelps of these Vancouver Games.

"I'm just out to ski well," she said. "I'm not trying to get five medals. I'm not trying to be Michael Phelps."

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