VANCOUVER - Lindsey Vonn took a deep breath, and her words trickled forth slowly as she began to discuss the badly bruised and swollen right shin she fears could force her out of an Olympics many predicted would become her personal showcase.
Almost anyone with any interest in the Vancouver Games - fans and competitors, yes, but also Vonn's sponsors and NBC - must have been taken aback Wednesday when the U.S. star said: "I'm sitting here today questioning whether, you know, I'll be even able to ski." Vonn revealed the injury two days before the opening ceremony, and about a week after hurting herself during a slalom training run in Austria.
As a two-time reigning overall World Cup champion, Vonn is considered a contender to win multiple medals, including an overwhelming favorite in the downhill and super-G. And as an outgoing, autograph-signing, product-pitching American, Vonn has been positioned as Vancouver's answer to Beijing's Michael Phelps.
Lindsey Vonn's husband says it's possible the U.S. skiing star will have to pull out of some Olympic events because of a bruised and swollen right shin, but he'd be "very, very surprised if she didn't race in anything." Thomas Vonn told The Associated Press his wife could use painkillers or a local anesthetic to numb the pain.
Vonn is expected to test the leg at Whistler Mountain Thursday, when the women have their first official training run.
Their first race is Sunday's super-combined. Those who have been around Vonn for years expect her to be in the starting gate, setting aside the agony the way she's done so many times before.
"Knowing her - her competitive drive - if anyone could be ready to go when the gun goes off, it will be Lindsey Vonn," U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association CEO Bill Marolt said.
Vonn did her best to smile through all of the camera clicks at the news conference, but she also paused to sigh occasionally while talking about the pain in her leg and the possibility of needing to pull out of one - or all - of her five events.
She described herself as "very emotional, very scared."
"It's hard to stay positive, you know," said the 25-year-old Vonn, who lives and trains in Vail, Colo. "A week ago . . . I was feeling great, I was feeling healthy, I had no problems. And now I'm sitting here today questioning whether I'll be even able to ski. So it's not where I want to be, by any means."
She was in a far better place Jan. 31, when she won a World Cup super-G at St. Moritz, Switzerland, to clinch that discipline title. Two days later, Vonn was taking some extra slalom training when she jammed a ski tip, toppled over and slammed her right boot against her leg.
She hasn't skied since getting hurt Feb. 2. Vonn said the bruising covers about a 6-inch swath. She refused to have an X-ray done to check whether she broke a bone because she didn't want to know.
"I pretty much stuck my fingers in my ear and just pretended like I didn't hear what was going on," Vonn said. "If I fractured my shin, I wouldn't be racing the rest of the season."