Kildow gains much-needed recovery time

Updated: February 19, 2006, 5:07 PM ET
By Carrie Sheinberg | Special to ESPN.com

SAN SICARIO, Italy -- With every snowflake that falls, American downhill skier Lindsey Kildow creeps closer to what could be recovery. Her hip and back still stiff and aching from a hideous crash in downhill training just six days ago, the 21-year-old American was given a gift when Sunday's super-G was postponed due to heavy snowfall.

The gift? Time.

Lindsey Kildow
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesLindsey Kildow gains a much-needed rest day for the women's super-G.

Another day for therapeutic massages and another day for anti-inflammatory drugs to help heal her deep contusions.

Given the violent nature of her fall and the impossible angles her joints withstood, it is conceivable, even likely, that Kildow's body will not be 100 percent for months. But the accelerated schedule of an Olympic fortnight has pushed her to loosen up, to deal with the pain and to perform in events she has been preparing for and dreaming about for years.

What is frustrating for Kildow fans is, until the crash last week, she was on track to realize those dreams. Kildow was ranked second in the world in downhill, had won two World Cup races in the last three months and looked comfortable on her skis at speeds of over 70 mph. She even had a promising second-place finish in the training run that precedes the downhill. In other words, Kildow was peaking at exactly the right time, ready to ski in all five events and even considered a medal contender in at least three.

But events intervened. And instead of adapting to the new reality she faced -- namely a hip so badly bruised and a back so sore that she could barely stand up -- Kildow went ahead as if nothing happened. But an athlete can't go into denial. An athlete must be able to first accept the change, and then adapt.

For Kildow to will herself out of her hospital bed and back into the starting gate for Monday's downhill was certainly heroic. And her ninth-place finish was nothing short of miraculous; plus, racers know this kind of grit can soothe a damaged psyche and undoubtedly be instrumental in a hastened recovery.

But cooler heads have to prevail. If you're the injured athlete, that head has to be your own. Coaches strongly suggested Kildow sit out the grueling, three-run combined event and rest up for three remaining events. But her decision to come out and race so soon went beyond heroic and bordered on masochistic.

As it turned out, the morning's downhill run was canceled. Still, there was Kildow, limping into the starting gate at 7:30 p.m. Torino time with temperatures in the teens, suffering through 40 excruciatingly icy slalom turns. In short, there are few things worse for an injured body than long hours outside in cold weather. And when she fell in the second run on the same bruised hip, her face in a taut grimace, it reinforced the question: What was Kildow doing out there in the first place?

Clearly, Kildow is fiercely competitive, a quality necessary to be a champion in any athletic discipline. But without common sense, that drive can be self-destructive. The ability to see beyond only the next day can actually get you what you want three days later.

Two other athletes took that approach. Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who hurt his knee on the first jump in the men's downhill, opted to sit out the combined, an event in which he was not only the reigning champion but also among the favorites. Three days later, a rested Aamodt was able to confidently throw down a super-G that was fast enough to win gold.

Croatia's Janica Kostelic began the Games with flu-like symptoms that were bad enough to force her out of the women's downhill. She came out two days later, well rested, and defended her gold medal in the combined. With age comes perspective, and these two are certainly experienced racers. It is easy to understand Kildow's exuberance. It is also difficult to watch her struggle through pain for what could be only middling performances.

Luckily, the weather gods have stepped in to give Kildow two full days of rest before she must again push her body to the limit. Ultimately, the decision racers make is often the best one, because that is where their strength comes from. It is what got them there in the first place.

Kildow will hopefully learn from this experience, and the next decision she makes will be not only her own, but will the best possible.

Carrie Sheinberg, three-time national ski racing champion and top American finisher in the alpine slalom event at the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.