Alpine skiing: US women focus after Vonn exit

The exit of Lindsey Vonn, the ultra-competitive spearhead of the US ski team, following a horror crash has left teammates pleading for privacy in their bid to focus on picking up the pieces.

The opening women's super-G race of the World Ski Championships on Tuesday was witness to a series of fog-related delays before going ahead in changeable light and variable snow conditions late in the afternoon.

Only 36 of 59 racers made it down the Planai course, and of those, six did not finish.

With the elements not boding well and shortly after a course worker was airlifted to hospital after falling, Vonn misjudged the landing off a blind roll, sending her crashing into a gate and one ski cart-wheeling down the slope.

She received 12 minutes of on-slope medical attention before helicopter evacuation to a nearby hospital.

Vonn suffered torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in her right knee and a lateral tibial plateau fracture, and will now battle to be back in time for the Winter Olympics in Sochi that start in almost one year to the day.

The 28-year-old media starlet is one of global sport's most recognisable and marketable female figures, a Sports Illustrated pin-up who has appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and as an extra on US police drama series Law and Order.

Her recent divorce, self-acknowledged battle with depression and rumoured affair with golfer Tiger Woods have all been closely followed.

Vonn's absence from the worlds is a major blow, not least for the US team, but teammate Stacey Cook pleaded for some privacy in their bid to bag some medals to fill the gap.

"Our team's heart aches for Lindsey but we know how strong of a person she is," Cook (@staceycookusa) wrote on her Facebook page.

"As a team, we still have big goals at these World Championships. We ask for privacy and respect in regards to questions about Lindsey so we can stay focused.

"Thanks for understanding and the biggest of all hugs to Linds. With Laurenne Ross, Leanne Smith, and Alice McKennis."

There were words of sympathy for Vonn's plight from all corners, not least Slovenia's Tina Maze, who won the super-G and will now be eyeing a potential bagful of medals in the absence of one her main competitors.

"Ah, this life! @lindseyvonn: great fighter, you were pushing limits again! wish you fast and good recovery! best wishes from us!" tweeted Maze (@TinaMaze).

With expected recovery times from ruptured knee ligaments normally between six and eight months, Vonn will have her work cut out to make it back on the snow as a real competitor in time for the 2014 Sochi Games.

But Vonn is nothing if not a fighter.

She bounced back from a spectacular crash in downhill training at the 2006 Olympics that left her with a badly bruised back, competing just days later.

A year later, a badly twisted right knee in slalom training at the Are world championships saw her season brought to a premature end.

Vonn also broke a finger in a crash at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, an event into which she went carrying a shin injury.

Each time the American has battled back, picking up multiple medals and four overall World Cup titles along the way, and the US team will be hoping she is robust enough to pick up the pieces from another risk taken on the no-holds barred sport of alpine skiing.