KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The ambulance was on the way. The medical team was leaving. It was a quiet moment after an explosive few minutes that saw Heidi Kloser's Olympic dreams evaporate. Wrapped in a sled at the bottom of the Olympic mogul course, her broken leg immobilized, she grabbed her mom's hand.

“She just looked up at me and said 'Am I still an Olympian?'” Emily Kloser said, her eyes welling as she recalled her daughter's crushing moment.

Heidi wasn't crying. She wasn't even emotional. There wasn't any “Why me?” or “Why now?”

“No self-pity at all. I was blown away,” Emily said.


The 21-year-old bump skier from Vail, Colo. simply wanted to know if an athlete is hurt in Olympic practice can she call herself an Olympian? It was a question about the rules.

“I guarantee if anyone had said 'No,' she would have somehow figured out how to put a ski boot on and gotten onto that mountain,” Emily said.

In a hospital hours later, Dr. William Sterrett — the Vail orthopedic surgeon who already had worked on three members of the Kloser family: Heidi, Emily and dad Mike — concluded that Heidi had blown her anterior cruciate ligament, torn her medial collateral ligament, bruised her tibial plateau and slightly fractured her femur when she crashed last Thursday.Her hopes for Olympic glory were over before the opening ceremony.“My training was going really well. I was skiing how I wanted to be. I was in the right place coming into it,” said Kloser, laying flat on a couch in the athletes' lounge at the base of the moguls course. “Unfortunately, I had a mistake that cost me the rest of the season.”

It happened so fast, Kloser said. It was her first run of training down the course on Thursday, an hour before the Olympic finals. She hit the top air fast. Maybe too fast.

“I think I slammed the fourth or fifth mogul too hard, just in the wrong place and my knee kind of twists and bent back behind me in a hyperflexion and it tore and broke,” she said.

As she recounts the incident, she isn't crying. Her lip isn't trembling. Her eyes are steady, defiant. She seems matter-of-fact. For the goal-focused woman who sacrificed a typical teenage life for relentless training, working for years to climb the ladder of the U.S. Ski Team's richly talented roster, it's on to the next horizon.

“I'm definitely aiming for 2018,” she said.

For top-tier ski and snowboard athletes, knee injuries are the price of admission. It's difficult to find any Olympic-caliber athlete whose knees haven't been sliced and reknotted by surgeons. It's not a matter of “if” but “when.” But what a crushing “when” for Kloser. Seriously, an hour before the big show?

It's enough to make a bystander weep.

Her parents — champion athletes who brimmed with pride at their daughter's rise this season to earn a spot on the Olympic moguls team — were ready to be rocked. Sleepless on a numbing four-day sprint through Russia, they were prepared to embrace a sobbing, dissolving daughter as they fought through the crowd to reach her at the bottom of the course Thursday.

“My heart was in so much pain. My body just ached for her,” said Emily, whose jacket sports a “We â ¥ Heidi” sticker, which reads “a couple jumps and some bumps ... I can do that.”

Heidi wasn't hysterical. No tears were streaming down her face. She was in pain, but not showing it.

“Her spirit is so strong. I thought if she can handle this, I can handle it,” Emily said.

Kloser got to walk in the Opening Ceremony, hobbling on crutches and biting her lip in pain. But it was part of her dream Olympic story. Not written the way she dreamed it, but she was in it nonetheless.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “I'm sad I didn't get to ski, but I'm happy I got to participate in one of the events of the Games.”

Mike Kloser shows a picture on his phone. It's a cover of a Turkish newspaper, showing Heidi hobbling with her teammates at the Opening Ceremony. Sure he wishes he was showing a picture of his daughter on a podium, but his pride is palpable. His daughter is showing a strength that will endure well beyond bump skiing.

“She's mature beyond her years in a lot of ways,” said Mike, a world-renowned endurance athlete. “I'm totally bummed for her but on the flip side, she's a strong girl and she will come out of this even stronger, both physically and mentally. I think this will make her that much tougher down the road.”