Skip to content

U.S. skier Kristina Koznick tore ACL, competed at Olympics 2 weeks later

Nov 20, 2013, 7:30 PM EDT

Kristina Koznick Getty Images

Kristina Koznick can’t remember the conversation, only the moment she shared with Lindsey Vonn in a hallway at the 2006 Olympic Village.

Koznick, her crutches resting next to a spin bike, struggled just to push the pedal with her right leg and circulate motion. In her toil, she noticed a woman hobbling down the corridor.

They made eye contact. It was Vonn, her teammate back from a hospital after suffering a bruised back and hip in a downhill training crash earlier that week.

“We both kind of chuckled at each other,” Koznick said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We looked at each other, and it was just like, ‘How did this happen?'”

Two weeks earlier, Koznick, the top U.S. slalom racer, skied off a 12-to-15-foot ledge in Ofterschwang, Germany, and tore her right ACL on Feb. 4. She was 30, at her third and final Olympics, and was an outside medal contender, the eighth-ranked slalom skier in the world.

On Feb. 22, Koznick skied. She successfully made it down the mountain in Sestriere, Italy, but that was it. She was in 34th place, 3.5 seconds off the lead and didn’t risk a second run in the Olympic slalom won by celebrated Swede Anja Paerson. (Vonn finished 14th)

Koznick’s injury was first reported to be a partially torn ACL, a vague diagnosis but the same words describing the result of Vonn’s training crash in Copper Mountain, Colo., on Tuesday.

“I live in Vail,” Koznick said two hours after Vonn’s diagnosis was made public. “Doesn’t take long for word to spread around here.”

Koznick and Vonn’s careers have crossed since they were “itty-bitties,” even though they were nine years apart. They developed separately at the same short Minnesota slope, Buck Hill, with the same Austrian-born coach, Erich Sailer.

“She had my poster on my wall,” Koznick said, “so that dates me a little bit.”

They made the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Teams together. Vonn was the up-and-coming speed racer, Koznick the veteran tech specialist.

When Koznick crashed on Feb. 4, 2006, she called Bill Sterett, the same orthopedic surgeon and U.S. Ski Team doctor who operated on Vonn’s blown-out right knee after her World Championships crash in February.

“When he looked at the MRI, it looked like there was a little strand still attached, but when he tested my knee he said he couldn’t feel much of an ACL,” Koznick said.

They knew that would be her final season of ski racing, but Koznick determined she would do anything possible to race 18 days later.

She worked daily with Sterett, a team of doctors and physical therapists. Koznick wore a brown knee brace to act as an ACL, holding her tibia in place.

“At the time, I thought I could do this,” Koznick said. “But [my knee] was always in the back of my head. My brain wouldn’t allow my body to push it to the limits in ski racing.”

Koznick was still on crutches two days before the slalom. Sterett told her she needed to ditch them and test her knee to show she could line up at the start gate.

source: Getty Images

Gold medalist Anja Paerson (left) with Kristina Koznick at the 2006 Olympic slalom.

She made it to race day, still limping. At the top of the mountain, she still believed she could win a medal. She changed her mind shortly after leaving the start house.

“It was obvious from the outset that she couldn’t go, laboring through gates, unable to shift her weight quickly,” the New York Daily News reported from Sestriere.

She crossed the finish, completed media interviews and made her way back to Sterett and her team.

We’re pulling the plug, they told her. It’s too dangerous for you to take another run. You’re not in medal contention.

“I didn’t really [agree], but I didn’t fight it,” she said. “It was their way of releasing me from [making the decision].”

Koznick now raises a 3-year-old girl, Charly, and a 1-year-old boy, Maxwell. She manages a gym with a goal to one day own a gym. She now knows that an error, hooking a gate with the tip of her ski, on that single run in Sestriere could have caused greater knee damage.

But she kept that from entering her mind on Feb. 22, 2006. And she doesn’t regret taking a run down a mountain 18 days after tearing an ACL.

“‘It spoke volumes about me and definitely had shown that I really can do something if I put my mind to it,” she said. “As an athlete, when you’re in it, you believe anything is possible.”

Lindsey Vonn headlines across globe

Latest Posts
  1. Usain Bolt may retire after Rio Olympics

    Aug 27, 2015, 12:22 PM EDT

    Usain Bolt AP

    Bolt previously said he would retire after the 2017 World Championships.

  2. Usain Bolt taken out by Segway (video)

    Aug 27, 2015, 11:53 AM EDT

    Usain Bolt, Segway

    “The rumor I’m trying to start right now is that Justin Gatlin paid him off.”

  3. Usain Bolt crushes Justin Gatlin in World Championships 200m

    Aug 27, 2015, 11:52 AM EDT

    Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin AP

    Also, Allyson Felix broke a U.S. record for World Championships medals.

  4. Allyson Felix wins 400m, breaks U.S. record for Worlds medals; Rio preview?

    Aug 27, 2015, 11:51 AM EDT

    Allyson Felix

    Felix could try to race two individual events at the Rio Olympics.

  5. Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin’s first race together from 2005 (video)

    Aug 27, 2015, 7:48 AM EDT

    Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin

    Justin Gatlin got the best of Usain Bolt in their only race before Gatlin’s doping ban.

  6. Oscar Pistorius’ parole review date set, reports say

    Aug 27, 2015, 6:51 AM EDT

    Oscar Pistorius AP

    Pistorius could be out of prison in weeks.

  7. Sarah Hendrickson out for season after another knee surgery

    Aug 26, 2015, 8:39 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The first female Olympic ski jumper reinjured her right knee.

  8. Paul Wylie: I survived by the narrowest of margins

    Aug 26, 2015, 2:14 PM EDT

    Paul Wylie Getty Images

    Wylie went into sudden cardiac arrest on April 21 and was in a medically induced coma for two days.

  9. Jordan Spieth eyes childhood dream of walking in Opening Ceremony

    Aug 26, 2015, 1:45 PM EDT

    Jordan Spieth AP

    The Opening Ceremony conflicts with a PGA Tour event.

  10. FINA may set age minimum for World Swimming Championships

    Aug 26, 2015, 11:04 AM EDT

    AP AP

    A 10-year-old girl competed in Kazan earlier this month.

  11. Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid logo, renderings released

    Aug 26, 2015, 10:28 AM EDT

    Los Angeles 2024 logo

    Dodger Stadium and The Forum are potential venues.

  12. Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin set up duel; South African stretchered off after 400m gold

    Aug 26, 2015, 10:19 AM EDT

    AP AP

    A two-time Olympic champion in the 200m moved into another runner’s lane during a semifinal.

  13. Ashleigh Johnson stands out on U.S. water polo team (video)

    Aug 25, 2015, 1:13 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Johnson could become the first African-American woman to compete on an Olympic water polo team.

  14. Former coach of Olympic gymnasts faces child molestation charges

    Aug 25, 2015, 11:42 AM EDT

    Marvin Sharp Getty Images

    Marvin Sharp coached Bridget Sloan and Samantha Peszek.

  15. Hammer thrower briefly leaves World Championships gold medal in taxi

    Aug 25, 2015, 11:03 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Paweł Fajdek reportedly paid his taxi fare with his World Championships hardware.

  16. U.S. goes medal-less at World Championships; Bolt, Gatlin, Felix advance

    Aug 25, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT

    AP AP

    One medal favorite’s shoe came off during her race.

  17. History of U.S. women to swim 100m through 800m freestyles at Olympic trials

    Aug 24, 2015, 3:41 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Many have tried. None succeeded in making the Olympic team in all four events.

  18. Katie Ledecky expects to add 100m freestyle to Olympic trials lineup

    Aug 24, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Ledecky may also swim a non-freestyle event at trials.

  19. Ex-No. 2 women’s marathoner of all time OK to compete after doping ban reduced

    Aug 24, 2015, 12:09 PM EDT

    Liliya Shobukhova Getty Images

    Liliya Shobukhova provided “substantial assistance” in the fight against doping.