By Chris Lehourites and Pat Graham
AP Sports Writers
A hairline fracture in her left knee didn’t deter Lindsey Vonn. Still, she raced.
Three significant-sized fractures that could — if they became any worse — lead to surgery and possibly an end to her career? Now that got the attention of the all-time winningest female World Cup skier.
Vonn announced Wednesday that she was leaving the racing circuit early after an MRI revealed the injury in her tibial plateau — the top of the shinbone at the knee joint — was more serious than first believed. She crashed over the weekend, but competed the next day.
And this was shaping up for quite a finish, too. With eight races to go, Vonn leads the overall World Cup standings with 1,235 points, followed closely by Lara Gut of Switzerland with 1,207. Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany is third with 914.
“Because I am currently leading the overall World Cup standings, this is one of the toughest decisions of my career,” Vonn said on her Facebook page. “While I am confident that I’m making the right decision, it still doesn’t make this decision any easier.’
Lately, Vonn’s injuries and ailments have been piling up like her accomplishments. Even the best aren’t immune to wipeouts in such a demanding sport.
Vonn crashed on Saturday during a super-G race in Andorra after hitting a patch of soft snow. X-rays showed a hairline fracture in her tibial plateau and yet she decided to race Sunday in the combined event, extending her overall lead by finishing in 13th place.
On Wednesday, she revealed the injury was much worse.
“The fractures are not hairline, but instead they are significant enough that they are not sufficiently stable to permit me to safely continue skiing,” Vonn said.
Because of the test results, the four-time overall World Cup champion said she decided to end her season immediately. She doesn’t want to jeopardize things going forward. Not with the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, next season and the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea on the horizon.
“I cannot take that risk,” the 31-year-old Vonn said.
Still, Vonn has had quite a season:
— Adding nine more World Cup wins to her resume to bring the record to 76 and close the gap on the all-time mark of 86 victories held by Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden.
— Winning a downhill in Cortina to eclipse Annemarie Moser-Proell’s mark of 36 career wins in skiing’s marquee event. Vonn then won a super-G for her 11th career victory at the Italian resort, breaking the record of retired Austrian standout Renate Goetschl.
— Capturing the overall downhill discipline title this season, which was her 20th crystal globe. That broke the mark of 19 held by Stenmark.
“I am very proud of what I have been able to accomplish this year,” Vonn said.
Her top rival felt her pain.
“It’s a real shame that the tense fight for the overall title can’t last until the end,” Gut said in a Swiss ski federation statement. “I wish Lindsey Vonn a good recovery and a successful return next season.”
This has been a strange season for injuries to some of the circuit’s biggest names. Defending champ Anna Fenninger of Austria missed the year with a knee injury, while Olympic and world champion Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. only recently returned after missing a good portion of the season when she tore the medial collateral ligament in her right knee during a training run.
Men’s overall leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway was also ruled out for the season with a right knee injury from a crash in January in Kitzbuehel, Austria.
“Pretty unusual … season with all injuries,” Slovenian standout Tina Maze said on Twitter. “Ah, but life goes on! What to do?”
Maze, who’s taking the season off, added the hashtags “protect yourself” and “get well soon.”
Vonn’s list of injuries over the years is quite long. She withdrew midway through the 2011 world championships because of a concussion. She raced with a severely bruised shin at the 2010 Olympics. She hurt her knee in training and missed a pair of races at the 2007 worlds and took a scary fall during training at the 2006 Olympics, then left the hospital to compete.
And while Vonn captured Olympic gold in the downhill at the 2010 Vancouver Games, she couldn’t defend her crown four years later in Sochi because of a serious knee injury.
Even this season got off to a rocky start. A broken ankle kept her out of the season-opening giant slalom in Austria. Then, she needed stitches in her right thumb after trying to break up a fight between her dogs over a Frisbee.