- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Star skier Lindsey Vonn’s stitched-up and swollen right thumb, sliced open on a champagne bottle during a photo op gone awry last month, is protected by a red-white-and-blue brace that wraps around her wrist.

Late in the just-concluded World Cup season, that freak injury forced Vonn to tape her pole to her glove for races. No matter: She finished off a second consecutive overall title, the first U.S. woman to win more than one.

These days, as Vonn does plenty of meeting and greeting to boost her own profile and her sport’s with the Vancouver Olympics less than a year away, the problematic thumb forces her to hide her right hand when it’s time to shake with someone. She’s managed to become quite adept at turning her left hand and folding it into the other person’s right.

Now, Vonn told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday, she worries she might need a second operation on the thumb, which she still can’t bend fully and may never be able to straighten.

“There’s always a possibility that there could be too much scar tissue, and I don’t get the range of motion back, and that would mean that I would have to have surgery again. But I’m hoping that that’s not the case,” Vonn said. “I’m hoping that it’s healing well, which the doctors say it is. So if all goes as planned, then I should be pain-free and without the brace in a month and a half.”

Her record-setting season included downhill and super-G World Cup titles, in addition to the overall championship. Vonn also won world championship gold medals in those disciplines _ and it was at a victory toast after the downhill that she cut her thumb and needed surgery.

“The sad part about it was I didn’t even get to celebrate. It was supposed to be just for a photo opportunity, taking pictures of me spraying the crowd with champagne. Not only did I not get to spray the crowd with champagne, I didn’t even get to have the champagne and my party was ended very abruptly,” Vonn said, two world championship medals hanging from ribbons around her neck. “I’m not going to be opening champagne bottles any time soon, probably not for the rest of my life. That’s a mistake you definitely learn from.”

Vonn, who lives in Park City, Utah, spoke often Thursday about learning, picking up lessons here and there over the years that helped make her the skier and the competitor _ and, she notes, the person _ she has become at 24.

There was the trying year she had at age 16, a season in which, by her count, she failed to finish 50 of 55 races. That disappointing series of performances led Vonn to contemplate quitting the sport she loves altogether.

“It was a good reality check. People weren’t that supportive of me. They were mostly just saying, ‘OK, you need to get going or you’re out.’ And I didn’t want to be out. I wanted to be in the game,” Vonn said. “Even though it was depressing and sad and wasn’t the way I wanted to go, I realized that I had to make a change.”

And that she did, taking her parents up on their suggestion that she work out more. Her results began to improve almost immediately.

“I had relied so much on physical talent before,” Vonn said, “that I never thought I needed to work hard.”

She’ll double her preseason preparation this summer, spending six weeks instead of three working with trainers in Austria. Although one of her goals is to take a third consecutive World Cup overall title _ something no man or woman has done since Austria’s Petra Kronberger from 1990-92 _ Vonn’s certainly thinking about Vancouver.

“Over the past two years, I’ve learned a lot to prepare myself for these Olympics,” she said. “So I feel right now like I’m ready. I want to win a medal so badly. I’d do anything to win a medal.”

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