Kevin Pearce

Q&A with Kevin Pearce as ‘The Crash Reel’ sets to air

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The HBO debut of “The Crash Reel,” a documentary on snowboarding and the sport’s growing risks, shouldn’t be anything new for Kevin Pearce.

He’s seen the film, he’s lived the film and he’s been asked (and asked and asked) about the film. The opportunity to watch it on TV at his parents’ home in “the middle of nowhere” in Vermont on Monday night (9 ET) is still exciting.

“Pretty badass,” as Pearce put it.

Pearce is the focus of the 1-hour, 49-minute chronological compilation of home movies, interviews and snowboard footage directed by the Oscar-nominated Lucy Walker.

While Pearce never reached the Olympics, the film is very much about the Games from the opening scene. Key dates are identified as “XXX days before the Vancouver Olympics,” such as Dec. 31, 2009, 49 days before the Games.

A six-second clip from that New Year’s Eve morning is played three times throughout the film. Pearce is shown on a halfpipe run in a red jacket and dark pants with people on a ski lift in the background. He attempts the sport’s new, bar-raising trick, the cab double cork (a twisting double back flip). He misses. His head hits the snow, face first, with a sickening thud.

The rest of the film dives into Pearce’s rivalry with Shaun White and emotionally steps through his rehab from a traumatic brain injury. Freeskier Sarah Burke, who died on the same halfpipe in a training accident in 2012, makes a few short but powerful appearances in the film.

We’ll hold off on further details to let viewers learn on their own, but it sufficiently earned its place at the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW.

Pearce took time to answer questions about the film and his future in a telephone interview.

Q: What did you hope to accomplish with this film?

Pearce: What I really wanted was mainly to spread the word and spread the awareness of what a traumatic brain injury entails because I never had any idea until I had to muscle through it and drive through all the hard stuff and come back from it. I really tried to show people what was involved in the whole process, the power of family. What a supportive family can do to help somebody who is suffering, how it shows a family can help you come back and recover from what you’re faced with.

Q: What did you learn from seeing the finished product?

Pearce: I think really what I learned from it is what’s possible in life. It was super helpful seeing where I was, seeing what I put friends and family through and where I was at the end. I’m still fighting, but I got through the hardest parts of it. I made my way back.

Q: The footage of your crash is shown a few times in the film. What do you think when you see it now?

Pearce: If I had a tiny bit more speed and a little more air time, I would have been fine. Someone says it in the film that it was a perfect storm. Everything lined up perfectly that one moment for everything to go completely wrong. Unlucky, how close I was to being perfectly fine.

It’s also hard to think about because what has happened since, and what has come of it. It’s hard to know how to look at it. Was it so bad, or was it good? I woke up this morning and was able to brush my teeth, and a lot of people can’t say that. I look at it both ways. How lucky I am and how unlucky I am.

Q: Have you been back to the scene of the crash?

Pearce: I went back to Park City twice, went the last two years for Sundance, but I haven’t gone down to the mountain yet. It wouldn’t do that much for me to go back there. It’s not like this thing I’ve got to get back up there and come back to that halfpipe. I don’t really need to go near or have any interest of going near that pipe.

Q: Are there any safety measures you would like to see taken in snowboarding?

Pearce: Not at all. These kids should be allowed to do whatever they want. That’s why snowboarding is so special is because there are no rules. There’s nobody telling you what to do. I think helmets should be mandatory in these competitions, but for the most part they are.

It would be very hard on me if (because of me) there become rules in snowboarding. It would feel like I changed the sport.

Q: What are you up to now, and what’s ahead in the future?

Pearce: Public speaking. I’ve been getting out and sharing my story and trying to spread the message of safety and traumatic brain injuries and to share what I’ve been through and try to help kids in that sense. I’ve been announcing the X Games and then also other events. It’s a good way to stay in the sport and stay active in snowboarding.

Q: Are you going to the Olympics in Sochi?

Pearce: I actually am going to Sochi. I am going and carrying the torch at opening ceremonies for Nike.

U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
TODAY
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order