Lindsey Vonn to U.S., illness cited

ALTA BADIA, Italy -- Lindsey Vonn is heading back to the United States for an unexpected break in the middle of the World Cup ski season and is unlikely to return to Europe until January.

After a weekend of disappointing results at a World Cup meet in France, the four-time overall champion said in a statement on her Facebook page Monday that she needs to get her full strength back before returning to the slopes after New Year's.

Vonn stayed two nights in a hospital in Vail, Colo., in November after suffering from severe intestinal pain.

"After talking with my family and consulting with my coaches and trainers, I have decided to take a break from the World Cup circuit," Vonn said. "Since my intestinal infection last month, I have been struggling with my energy and strength. I believe that some time off the mountain will help me regain the physical strength that I require to compete at the level that I demand from myself."

Earlier Monday, U.S. women's head coach Alex Hoedlmoser told The Associated Press on Monday that the timing of Vonn's return "depends on how she's feeling and exactly what her condition is."

"She's going home for now," Hoedlmoser said. "We'll have to see when she's ready. It's a little bit unknown, but the plan is to get her back strong. ... With the way the schedule has been and all the travel she just hasn't had a chance to get back to strength. We want her back at full strength."

Hoedlmoser said Vonn will miss this week's slalom and giant slalom races in Are, Sweden. The following races on the schedule are also technical races in Semmering, Austria, Dec. 28-29.

"It's possible she'll skip Semmering, so that would mean her next races would be in January," Hoedlmoser said. "It depends how she's feeling and exactly what her condition is."

Vonn won three consecutive speed races at Lake Louise, Alberta, this season, and a super-G in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Dec. 8 for her 57th career World Cup win -- moving her within five of record-holder Annemarie Moser-Proell on the all-time list. But she fared poorly in both her races this past weekend in France.

On Friday in Val d'Isere, she had an uncharacteristic fall in the downhill, an event in which she's the Olympic champion. On Sunday in Courchevel, she fell again in the opening run of a giant slalom.

Immediately after Sunday's race, Vonn posted a note on Facebook: "Hit a rock on my left ski in the GS and skied off course...struggling to find the energy I usually have...going to think hard over the next few days about my plan for the coming weeks and how to get strong again. Trying to stay positive. Now I'm packing up the Audi and heading to the airport."

After Semmering, there is a special city event in Munich on New Year's Day and a slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, on Jan. 4, followed by speed races Jan. 12-13 in St. Anton, Austria -- on one of Vonn's favorite courses.

Depending on how many races Vonn misses, her chances of defending the overall title may be affected.

Vonn is fourth in the standings. Tina Maze of Slovenia leads with 799 points, followed by Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany at 468, Kathrin Zettel of Austria at 440 and Vonn at 414.

Vonn, however, might not miss any speed races, her specialty, so Hoedlmoser wasn't counting her out.

"In January there are plenty of races left for her," he said. "The goal is to get her back up in shape."

In last week's issue of People magazine, Vonn revealed she struggled with depression in 2008 and was prescribed an antidepressant. She added that she's happier these days.

"All the parts of my life are finally in sync," she said. "I accept who I am, and I'm moving forward."

Vonn separated from her husband of four years, Thomas, last year.

In Monday's statement, Vonn said "I want to be emphatic that this has nothing to do with my recent interview with People Magazine."

"I had completed that interview weeks before I was in the hospital with the intestinal infection," she said.