The U.S. Olympic team lost one of its biggest stars — and most recognizable faces — when Lindsey Vonn announced Tuesday that a lingering knee injury will force her to skip the 2014 Sochi Games.
Now comes the question: Who on the American squad can fill the void?
After much speculation, Vonn abandoned her quest to defend the Olympic downhill title and will undergo surgery to repair her right knee.
"I did everything I possibly could to somehow get strong enough," she said in a statement. "But the reality has sunk in that my knee is just too unstable to compete."
The U.S. squad — and NBC, which paid billions for broadcast rights — had been counting on Vonn to add marquee dazzle to the Winter Games.
Her drawing power was particularly important after the withdrawal of figure skater Evan Lysacek and the retirement of short-track speedskater Apolo Ohno.
Unlike other teammates, such as Shaun White and Ted Ligety, Vonn has made plenty of news off the slopes as the girlfriend of Tiger Woods, who was expected to watch her compete in Russia.
Her announcement drew sympathy from fellow racers.
"It's hard to swallow that [Vonn] won't be competing in Sochi, but I'm incredibly impressed at her determination," rising slalom star Mikaela Shiffrin tweeted. "She's a true hero."
The spotlight will now shine more brightly on the likes of White and long-track speedskater Shani Davis. The U.S. men's hockey team will be loaded with NHL stars and the skating pair of Meryl Davis and Charlie White could become the first Americans to win Olympic gold in ice dancing.
"I will be cheering for all the Olympians and especially Team USA," Vonn said.
The 29-year-old, who has also won four overall World Cup titles, originally was injured during the opening race of the world championships in Austria last February.
After surgery, she returned to the snow in late summer but hit a series of setbacks.
A downhill crash during a November training run damaged one of her reconstructed ligaments. Then came another injury, a strained medial collateral ligament, during a December race in Val d'Isere, France.
After that event, Vonn revealed that she had no anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee.
Bill Marolt, president and chief executive of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn., put an optimistic spin on the circumstances.
"While Lindsey won't be in Sochi, we have a strong team that is well-prepared for the challenge," Marolt said. "Now is the time for those athletes to step up."
Other top skiers include Shiffrin, who will be a medal favorite in Sochi, and the recently struggling Julia Mancuso, who nonetheless has three Olympic medals on her resume.
On the men's side, Ligety is expected to reach the podium and veteran Bode Miller has been skiing well.
In the coming months, Vonn will concentrate on recovery in hopes of racing in the 2015 world championships at her hometown of Vail, Colo.
Her list of accomplishments already makes her the most successful female Alpine skier in American history. With 59 World Cup victories, Vonn stands only three short of the all-time record held by Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria.
"I have every ounce of confidence that Lindsey will be in the starting gate next World Cup season ready to compete," Marolt said. "She knows the hard work it takes to get to the top and still has significant goals to achieve."email@example.com