By Steve Yingling
Tribune sports editor
U.S. Ski Team racer Marco Sullivan's resolve to continue competitive ski racing was given a severe test last week.
After missing most of the World Cup season last year because of a dislocated right knee, the sixth-year team member suffered his third knee injury in four years. Sullivan, 24, tore the ACL in the same knee he hurt a year ago during a training run in Tignes, France.
"For the last 10 months all I have been thinking about was getting back for this season ... that was my motivation," Sullivan said. "To hurt myself and be out for this season as well, it's gonna be tough to keep focused for another year."
Sullivan briefly contemplated giving up competitive skiing.
"I've had a lot of thoughts and obviously I've been thinking what my options are for the future," Sullivan said. "I've decided that I am going to make a comeback to the ski team. The Olympics are 15 months away and I'm must going to use that as a goal, hoping that I will be 100 percent by that time."
Sullivan returned home to Truckee two days after injury and saw Dr. Terry Orr of Tahoe Fracture Clinic on Saturday in South Lake Tahoe. Orr will perform the surgery next week and Sullivan will rehabilitate the knee in Truckee.
The damage to his right knee is far less than what occurred last December in Beaver Creek, Colo.
"Luckily, it's not anything close to what happened last year. It should be a cakewalk recovery compared to last year," Sullivan said. "I'm relatively young for the sport. A lot of guys you see winning these days are in their early 30s. If I can rehab and return to form, I definitely have a few good years left in me."
Sullivan said there is an outside chance he could return in time for the U.S. Nationals in March. When he does, don't expect him to back off from his aggressive style of racing.
"I'm always going for it," he said. "I've had a lot of crashes I've walked away from and obviously with the percentages you are going to hurt yourself some of the time."
After returning to snow for the first time in seventh months in July, Sullivan was beginning to regain his old form.
"The day before I got hurt I was winning all of the runs," said Sullivan, noting that Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller weren't at the camp. "I finally got my confidence back and was able to put some fast times down. That gives me some motivation to know that I can take a year off and come back and pick up where I left off. Hopefully I can do that with this one, too."
Sullivan has shown flashes of enormous potential in the past few years. He finished ahead of World Cup downhill series favorite Rahlves at the 2002 Winter Olympics, taking ninth place. He also finished sixth in a 2002 World Cup downhill race at Beaver Creek.
"It's disappointing for all of us, but injuries are a part of sport," Tom Kelly, the U.S. Ski Team's vice president of communications.. "One thing is that Marco's injury at Beaver Creek was as devastating a knee injury as you can get and he was able to come back from that injury very quickly."
It was at that same venue that Sullivan's potentially best season came to a crashing halt last season after only two races. After missing a gate during a training run, Sullivan flew off a jump and a bad landing caused him to dislocate his right knee as well as tear ligaments.