Alpine skiing: Vonn in bad crash at world champs

The World Ski Championships got off to the worst possible start on Tuesday when US ski star Lindsey Vonn suffered a heavy crash during the opening race of the two-week event.

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.

Vonn, a two-time world champion and Olympic gold medallist who has had a stop-start season due to illness and recuperation, was evacuated promptly by helicopter to a nearby hospital by emergency services.

It was a second such visit to the course for them after one of the course workers also suffered a fall that necessitated helicopter evacuation.

Austrian television reported possible leg injuries for Vonn, though there was no official confirmation of that.

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.

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."

Germany's Viktoria Rebensburg, who finished eighth, played down the changeable elements, saying: "Yes, there was fog. Sometimes we have it in training, so we're used to it.

"If you look at the results, the top super-G skiers are in front. It was okay.

"The piste was not perfect but that's clear with a lot of snow in the last couple of days."

Vonn, the four-time World Cup winner, was looking to recapture her super-G world title from 2009 and had been leading before her crash.

"I thrive off of challenges and this is just a new challenge so I'm excited about it and definitely getting ready to get my game face on," she said ahead of the race.