Kildow hopes to race despite frightening fall | AspenTimes.com
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Kildow hopes to race despite frightening fall

Bob Baum
The Associated Press
Vail's Lindsey Kildow speeds down the course during the women's downhill training in San Sicario Fraiteve, Italy. She crashed on her downhill training run and was taken down the mountain on a stretcher. (Kevin Frayer/AP)
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SAN SICARIO, Italy ” It all happened so fast: the initial wobble at 50 mph, the awkward leg splits, the tumble, the “Oh, no!” instant when things really got scary for Lindsey Kildow.

The American skiing star popped into the air, out of control, limbs flailing and poles flying, until she slammed back to earth 15 feet away, her head snapping back on the icy snow.

Somehow, Kildow, of Vail, emerged with nothing worse than a bruised hip from Monday’s downhill training crash on a course overhauled after she and other skiers complained it was too easy.

And, somehow, despite being taken off in a toboggan and airlifted to a Turin hospital, she wasn’t willing to rule out competing at these Olympics ” as soon as Wednesday.

“She’s tougher than I am, if you can imagine that,” said close friend Picabo Street, a skier known for repeated comebacks from major injuries, including a gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics two years after breaking her leg and tearing knee ligaments.

“She’s a smiling, happy girl, and she’s smiling again now,” Street said by telephone after visiting Kildow at the hospital.

Kildow was one of four skiers who crashed on a slick Fraiteve Olympique downhill course built mostly with water-soaked artificial snow. Picture skiing on an ice rink tilted at a 45-degree angle.

Defending Olympic downhill champion Carole Montillet-Carles of France smacked into protective fencing when she failed to navigate the route’s biggest jump and had rib, back and facial injuries. She likely will not race Wednesday. Canadian Allison Forsyth’s Olympics are over after she tore knee ligaments, and Elisabeth Goergl of Austria also fell but was able to ski to the bottom of the hill.

“It’s the Olympics ” people are trying to take more chances,” Emily Brydon of Canada said. “It is so rolly up there, you have to be on it all the time. If you relax for a bit, it will catch you.”

After World Cup events on this hill last season, a chorus of racers complained that the terrain lacked variety, so Olympics organizers altered the landscape and added jumps and bumps ” changes that drew praises from Kildow and others after Sunday’s downhill training.

“It’s not an easy downhill, that’s for sure,” said reigning World Cup overall champion Anja Paerson of Sweden.

The U.S. Ski Team already was depleted by recent injuries to Caroline Lalive and Kristina Koznick, and Kildow’s misfortune was another blow to the country’s Olympic contingent, following figure skater Michelle Kwan’s withdrawal and disappointing starts for men’s skiing stars Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves and short-track skater Apolo Anton Ohno.

The frightening fall brought to mind Austrian star Hermann Maier’s oft-replayed crash in the downhill at Nagano. “Not Lufthansa, but not bad,” he joked before returning 72 hours later to win the first of two gold medals at those games.

Kildow’s been pegged as a superstar-in-the-making for years, thanks to her skills on the slopes and charisma off them. At 17, she had the best finish for a U.S. woman in Alpine skiing during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, finishing sixth in the combined.

Her true breakthrough was last season, with six top-three finishes in the World Cup, though she was left in tears after twice finishing one spot away from a medal at the 2005 Alpine World Championships.

Kildow won two World Cup downhills this season, ranks No. 2 on the circuit in that event and was second-fastest during Sunday’s training.

She’s dreamed of Olympic success since first strapping on skis at age 2, since she met Street at age 9, since she sneaked into the 1999 Alpine World Championships in Vail, Colo., and scored Bode Miller’s autograph.

“I’ve known Lindsey for about 10 years. She’s a pretty tough young lady. Almost nothing surprises me about her. Until we tell her she absolutely can’t race, she’s not going to rule it out,” said U.S. Alpine physician Bill Sterett, who treated her Monday afternoon. “She’s pretty banged up and she’s pretty sore, but she’s in good spirits and doing pretty well.”

It would be remarkable if Kildow does manage to race here, regardless of how she fares. Clipping back on her skis and grabbing her poles would take guts.

Many skiers refuse to watch video replays of such tumbles. It’s a part of the sport they can’t afford to think about. Others block it out.

“We’re just used to it,” said medal contender Julia Mancuso of the United States, who was next down the mountain after Kildow and posted the day’s fourth-best time. “Every race, there’s always some stuff that happens, whether it’s a teammate or not. You sort of have to refocus at the start and go.”

Things went wrong for Kildow ” a 21-year-old who moved from Minnesota to Vail about a decade ago ” when her left ski slid out as she came off a dip and began to turn around a gate on a rolling, relatively flat stretch on the course’s second half. Her right knee buckled and dragged on the ground while her left leg spread wide. One ski jutted into the surface like a skate blade and pushed her airborne.

After she landed backward and banged to a stop, medical workers rushed to her aid and she was taken to a helicopter.

The scene wasn’t visible from the bottom of the hill, where skiers, coaches and spectators rely on a giant video screen to see most of the course, with some of it shown on slight tape-delay.

As Kildow’s run was starting, the screen was still showing the skier who went before her. Then there was a quick, gut-wrenching cut to an image of Kildow on her back, legs splayed, mouth agape, chest heaving.

The crowd went quiet, then gasped collectively when a replay of the crash was shown.

Two-time Olympic medalist Renate Goetschl of Austria put her hands over her eyes, then grabbed her head and turned her back to the harrowing scene.


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