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The U.S. Olympic ski team lost one of its biggest stars today. Gold medallist Lindsey Vonn announced that she will miss the games in Sochi next month because of injuries. NPR's Ted Robbins looks at what the defending Olympic champion's exit means for her and for her team.
TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Lindsey Vonn blew out her right knee almost a year ago during a Super-G race in Austria.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Lindsey Vonn over the top, and she is down heavily. Lindsey Vonn.
ROBBINS: Her skis flew off at high speed as she tumbled down the course. Vonn was airlifted and underwent multiple surgeries. Amazingly, she made it back to competition, injured her knee again and made it back. She explained her fortitude to NBC Universal Sports two months ago.
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LINDSEY VONN: I've been injured many, many times in my career, but it's always been situations where I can fight through pain.
ROBBINS: Then a few days after that interview, she injured her knee a third time. Today, Lindsey Vonn decided she just isn't ready for the Olympics. She released a statement saying she is, quote, "devastated to announce I will not be able to compete in Sochi. My knee is just too unstable to compete at this level."
GRAYSON SCHAFFER: It's not a surprise.
ROBBINS: Grayson Schaffer is a writer and editor at Outside magazine.
SCHAFFER: Lindsey Vonn's career has been plagued by injuries, you know, ahead of the Olympics.
ROBBINS: At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, she injured her shin, yet still became the first American woman to win the Olympic downhill. Then she crashed in two other events.
SCHAFFER: She just seems to sort of have this Olympic curse. And, you know, I think this probably was her last chance at redemption, you know, Olympic redemption.
ROBBINS: That's because no woman has ever won a World Cup race, let alone an Olympic race after 32. Vonn is 29 now and would be 33 at the next Olympics. Grayson Schaffer says Vonn's withdrawal pushes two other American women into the spotlight. Julia Mancuso is a proven winner. She actually has more total Olympic medals than Vonn.
SCHAFFER: And that's because, you know, when it comes to getting into the starting gate at the Olympics where the pressure is the highest, she seems to be the one who can deliver under pressure.
ROBBINS: But Julia Mancuso has long skied in Lindsey Vonn's celebrity shadow. Vonn's boyfriend, just an aside, is Tiger Woods. The other U.S. women's skier to watch is Mikaela Shiffrin. She's 18 years old, and just two days ago, she won a World Cup slalom race in Italy. Still, Mikaela Shiffrin showed her respect for Lindsey Vonn on "The David Letterman Show" last year.
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DAVID LETTERMAN: You won't be competing with her for a spot on the Olympic team, will you?
MIKAELA SHIFFRIN: I hope not.
LETTERMAN: Yeah. Are you friends with...
SHIFFRIN: It doesn't bode well for me.
ROBBINS: Well, now it'll be up to Mikaela Shiffrin, Julia Mancuso and whoever replaces Lindsey Vonn to prove themselves. No question the U.S. Olympic ski team has lost some star power but maybe it hasn't lost too much ski power. Ted Robbins, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.