The Sochi Olympics will be without arguably its biggest star as Lindsey Vonn announced Tuesday morning that she will not compete at the upcoming Games.
"I am devastated to announce that I will not be able to compete in Sochi," Vonn's statement read. "I did everything I possibly could to somehow get strong enough to overcome having no ACL but the reality has sunk in that my knee is just too unstable to compete at this level. I'm having surgery soon so that I can be ready for the world championships at home in Vail next February.
"On a positive note, this means there will be an additional spot so that one of my teammates can go for gold."
On Dec. 21 in Val d' Isere, France, Vonn reinjured her right knee. According to a statement released by her publicist, "an MRI showed an MCL sprain, which coupled with the torn ACL, has made it impossible to stabilize her knee and be ready to safely ski again next month."
Val d' Isere was Vonn's second World Cup stop since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in her knee last February and then partially tearing the same ACL in November.
"Vonn will have surgery shortly and is expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2014/15 World Cup season and the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail-Beaver Creek," the statement said.
"In looking ahead, I have every ounce of confidence that Lindsey will be in the starting gate next World Cup season ready to compete," said Bill Marolt, president of the U.S. Skiing and Snowboard Association.
"She knows the hard work it takes to get to the top and still has significant goals to achieve in what has been an incredible career."
Vonn, 29, is the most successful female Alpine skier in American history with 17 World Cup titles, including a record six consecutive downhill titles and four overall crowns. She holds 59 World Cup victories, currently three short of tying the women's all-time record of 62 held by Austrian Annemarie Moser Proell.
Given her star power, Vonn has been cast as the American face of these Games. When NBC rolled out its huge Olympic blitz, the first promotional spots featured Vonn. She's prominent in Procter & Gamble's "Thank You, Mom" campaign and sponsored by Under Armour, Head, Red Bull, Oakley and Rolex among others.
Her return to competition was expected to be one of the major stories of these Games. After last February's crash, the Olympic gold medalist returned to snow on Aug. 31 in Chile.
She injured the same knee during a downhill training crash on Nov. 19 in Copper Mountain, Colo., then returned to the World Cup tour in early December with a successful three-race series in Lake Louise, Alberta, including an impressive fifth the super G. Then came the injury in France, with her boyfriend Tiger Woods watching from the bottom of the course.
"While Lindsey won't be in Sochi, we have a strong team that is well prepared to challenge," Marolt said. "The women's speed team is experienced with five athletes who have achieved World Cup podiums and a seasoned veteran in Julia Mancuso, who has won three Olympic medals in her career. Now is the time for those athletes to step up towards our best in the world vision."
Outside of Mikeala Shiffrin, who is ranked fifth overall in the standings, the U.S. women have been less than impressive this season. Mancuso is the next highest ranked American at 32nd.
American athletes reacted to Vonn's news on Twitter. "Bummed Lindsey Vonn. Our team is not the same without you. You leave big shoes to fill for the rest of the year," wrote her teammate Stacey Cook.
Added Picabo Street: "Her heart must be broken! Hang in there @lindseyvonn we love you!"
Figure skater Evan Lysacek is also a 2010 Olympic gold medalist who saw his comeback fall short. He tweeted: "My heart goes out to you @lindseyvonn. I know how hard you have worked to get back and how much competing in Sochi meant to you."