After putting forth a valiant effort to make it back to competitive form in time for the Winter Olympic Games, Alice McKennis has decided to call it a season. The A Team speed skier was attempting to come back from a fractured tibia and shattered tibial plateau, an injury she sustained at the Garmisch World Cup in March.
McKennis, a 2010 Olympian who earned her first career World Cup win last season, will undergo surgery at the end of the month in Vail to remove the plate and screws currently in her leg. The plan will hopefully allow her to return to skiing on “just the bone” in May and rejoin the women’s speed program over the summer.
“It’s unfortunate and a tough decision. I’m just trying to look toward the future,” said McKennis. “It was a tough couple weeks trying to figure it out. … Now, I feel like I’m in a good place and I’m confident that I’m making the right decision for the future.”
Since getting back on snow in the October, McKennis has raced just one World Cup, the downhill in Val d’Isere, where she finished, but finished in last place and was heard screaming during parts of the run.
“It’s one thing to race at Copper and race NorAms. You sort of feel like you’re ready, but then it’s a totally different ballgame to go race the World Cup,” McKennis said. “The level is so much higher. After Val d’Isere, I didn’t really feel like I was in a position to race competitively or safely.”
The 24-year-old admits the Olympics changed her approach to the season, that she pushed it a little harder to come back, but in the end the prospects of being fully healthy for the World Championships in her home state of Colorado next season trumped mere participation in Sochi.
“The Olympics really drove me to push myself in the gym over the summer to try to recover,” she said. “It was all about the Olympics for me. I just didn’t have enough time to take all the steps needed to be competitive and physically safe. … I feel like if I can get healthy and have a full prep period — I haven’t had a full prep period in three years — get this taken care of early and get a full summer of training, that will make the all the difference in my skiing. Hopefully I can take that next step at Beaver Creek.”
Chip White, head women’s speed coach, said McKennis has worked extremely hard to prepare for the Olympics: “She was way ahead of schedule with rehab, impressed everyone. She did all the right things, but it was a severe injury and that takes a long time. … She made a very mature and smart decision to get strong and come back when she’s physically in a position to be competitive. She’s a true competitor and that’s who we want on this team. She’s now looking at future Olympic and World Championship medals and future World Cup podiums.”
The news comes just days after Lindsey Vonn revealed she will also not be competing in the Games at Sochi. If there’s a bright side to the announcements this week, it’s that all four healthy members of the women’s speed team — Julia Mancuso, Leanne Smith, Stacey Cook and Laurenne Ross — can now theoretically make the Olympic downhill roster.