SCHLADMING, Austria: The World Ski Championships got off to the worst possible start on Tuesday when US star Lindsey Vonn suffered a heavy crash during the opening race that put an end to her season.
The 28-year-old media starlet, one of global sport's most recognisable and marketable female figures, landed on the side of her ski after a jump during the opening super-G race here, and flipped over before crashing into a safety gate.
The dramatic crash, which saw one of Vonn's skis cart-wheeling down the slope, left her on-watching sister Laura Kildow and eventual winner Tina Maze gasping in horror.
According to US ski team doctor Kyle Wilkens, Vonn suffered a torn ACL and MCL (anterior and medial cruciate ligament) in her right knee and a lateral tibial plateau fracture.
"She will be out for the remainder of this season but is expected to return to racing for the 2013-14 World Cup season and the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi," the US team said.
Vonn, a two-time world champion and Olympic gold medallist who has had a stop-start season due to illness and a one-month lay-off, had received 12 minutes of on-slope medical attention before helicopter evacuation to a nearby hospital.
The four-time World Cup overall winner had been looking to recapture her super-G world title from 2009 and had been leading before her crash.
Her injury came almost exactly one year to the day before the 2014 Winter Olympics kick off in Sochi, where she would be expected to spearhead the US team.
The spotlight immediately fell on the International Ski Federation (FIS), which pushed back the start time of the super-G 13 times and by an extra final 30 minutes to 1330 GMT after the initial start had been hampered by heavy fog.
Conditions in the afternoon run were overcast, with snow variable and fog still bunched on parts of the Planai course.
Tellingly, FIS called a halt to the race after just 36 runners, with 23 not able to compete. When 30 skiers have gone through the start hut, the results are validated, and Slovenia's Maze was handed gold.
"It was not so bad," Maze said. "FIS want to stage a race because there are not many days to restage it.
"They were looking to make it possible today... these mistakes that the girls made are not the fault from the slope."
Switzerland's Lara Gut took silver and Vonn's teammate Julia Mancuso bronze, but two favourites who raced immediately after Vonn both failed to finish in the tough conditions.
The conservative lines taken by Austrian hopeful Anna Fenniger and Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch in faltering light and increasingly soft snow over blind rolls saw them both ski out.
"It was a difficult day for everybody," said Hoefl-Riesch, a close friend of Vonn's.
"We had to wait very, very long, and I think no one was thinking we'd start, but then we had to and there were several interruptions during the race as well.
"It was hard for me to find my concentration, but some girls did very well."
Mancuso described the day as "very difficult... and very long".
"I made it down," she said. "My brain shut off halfway down the run!
"It's the kind of course you have to be on the limit. You don't really know what to expect.
"It's also very difficult to have course holds," Mancuso said, adding that pre-race inspection in the fog followed by a four-hour delay before racing was not to blame for the difficulties encountered on the piste.
"You could see the gates for inspection," she said. "There was fog in the morning, but it wasn't that bad."