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Skier Lindsey Vonn never thought crash 'was going to be the end of my career'

In an exclusive interview, Lindsey Vonn, one of the most decorated Olympic skiers in history, talks to TODAY's Matt Lauer about the devastating injury she sustained just one year before the start of the Sochi Olympics, saying she still has "plenty of time to be ready" for the 2014 Games.

Only two weeks after major knee surgery following a devastating crash, Lindsey Vonn is vowing to be ready for the 2014 Winter Olympics next February.

“I struggled definitely the first few days after the injury,’’ Vonn told Matt Lauer on TODAY Monday in her first interview since the crash, during the Alpine skiing world championships, on Feb. 5. “Right now my goal is to be back for 2014 in Sochi.

"Honestly, in a worst-case scenario, if I trained a week before the Games, I’d be fine,’’ she said.

Vonn, who has won an American-record four overall World Cup Championships and also won the gold medal in the downhill at the 2010 Winter Olympics, tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in her right knee and fractured her tibia. She was airlifted to a nearby hospital following the harrowing crash in Schlamding, Austria.

“I just went off the jump, flew too far, and landed in a pile of snow that hadn’t been cleared away,’’ she said. “It essentially stopped my feet on impact, and my knee just completely buckled.’’  

In video footage of the crash, Vonn can be heard letting out a shriek after she hits the ground in serious pain. Vonn estimated she was skiing 70 to 80 miles per hour when she crashed.

“I initially thought it was going to be worse,’’ Vonn said. “There was just so much pain that I couldn’t quite tell where exactly it was coming from.’’

As Vonn was airlifted to the hospital, she considered the effects of her injury.

“I knew what was wrong with me within five minutes of getting there, so everything happened pretty quick,’’ she said. “I didn’t think it was going to be the end of my career.’’

Vonn’s crash came nearly two months after she publicly revealed her struggles with depression. Vonn filed for divorce in 2011 from her husband and ski coach, Thomas Vonn, and decided to talk about her condition in the aftermath.

“I felt like after my divorce that was something I needed to get off my chest,’’ she said. “I felt like I needed to tell people about it to move forward. I hope that at least one good thing about me talking about it is that other people don’t feel ashamed to talk about it.’’

Recent headlines have linked Vonn romantically with golfer Tiger Woods. She declined comment about it to Lauer, saying she would like to keep her personal life private. 

Vonn has stayed positive since the injury, joking about her fancy crutches and tweeting pictures of her beat-up knee with the hashtag #longskirtsthissummer. She is currently rehabbing with two one-hour sessions per day. Falls and injuries are part of the job as far as she’s concerned, and she will have no fear of returning to the slopes.

“I know I can,’’ she said. “That’s just who I am.’’

Vonn’s four overall World Cup titles trail only Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proll, who won six overall, including five in a row in the 1970s. The American star is aware of the physical toll her injuries could take down the line, and how it could affect her health at age 50, but she is pursuing history.

“I feel like I have a lot more left to do,’’ Vonn said. "I have plenty of time to be ready for Sochi."

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