US alpine team looks to replace Vonn

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — It is a shame for any competition, Olympic or otherwise, to be defined by who is not here rather than who is, but it is true in so many sports. When Tiger Woods doesn’t enter a golf tournament, the energy and attention is diminished. When the Lakers play without Kobe Bryant, the result gets stamped with an asterisk.

And when Lindsey Vonn misses an Olympics — what with all her appearances in People and Vogue, all her walks down red carpets, not to mention all her World Cup victories — fewer heads turn, fewer televisions click on.

So here come the women of the U.S. Alpine ski team, at the Sochi Olympics to compete without Vonn. This group, which will begin competition in Monday’s super combined, includes three-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso, a threat to add to her total here. It includes 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin, who will first race Feb. 18 and is a favorite in the slalom three days later.

But to begin the competition, there’s no escaping that Vonn, the most accomplished ski racer in American history, is stateside, recovering from a series of knee injuries. Healthy and in top form, she would be a threat to win medals in four events. At home, she will appear on NBC, an analyst not an athlete, leaving her teammates to up the American medal count on their own.

“We definitely miss Lindsey,” said Mancuso, Vonn’s contemporary and competitor since they were adolescents. “She’s a big presence on our team and she’s always the one to beat. So you definitely feel that she’s not here.”

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