Luke Mitrani

Luke Mitrani fortunate to be ‘alive and breathing’ after breaking neck in snowboarding crash

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Luke Mitrani was paralyzed for two minutes.

He lay near the bottom of a sun-soaked 22-foot-high halfpipe, unable to feel his arms or legs. He feared trying to move his neck.

“There was a moment where I really thought I could have died,” Mitrani said.

Mitrani, 23, aborted a frontside double cork 1080 in snowboard training and crashed in Cardrona, New Zealand, at about 9:45 a.m. on Sept. 1. It marked another life-altering injury in an Olympic sport growing not only in popularity and scope, but also in amplitude and scrutiny.

Airborne, Mitrani appeared to give up after the first of a planned three flips, tomahawked back into the halfpipe and landed on his head, shoulder and back almost at the base of the pipe.

“He basically did a 30-foot free fall,” U.S. Snowboarding coach Rick Bower said.

2010 Olympian Greg Bretz watched Mitrani’s trick from the top of the halfpipe. Mitrani was near the bottom, about 200 feet away, but Bretz noticed the danger when Mitrani tried to stop his rotation after that first flip. He bolted down the halfpipe before Mitrani crashed on the snow.

“I’ve seen it before,” Bretz said. “I was there when Kevin did his thing.”

On New Year’s Eve 2009, U.S. Olympic contender Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury when a double cork 1260 went awry and he landed on his face. Just before, Pearce had beaten Mitrani in rock, paper, scissors to determine who would drop into the Park City, Utah, halfpipe first.

“With Kev, we didn’t know what the hell was going on,” said friend Danny Davis, a snowboarder who broke his femur in last year’s New Zealand trip. “At least with Squid we knew he was alive.”

Mitrani is known as “Squid,” his Halo video-game handle, to his pals, a group of snowboarders deemed “FRENDS” (there’s no “I” in friendship). The group includes Pearce, Bretz, Davis and Mitrani’s older brother, Jack. Mitrani’s Twitter bio reads, “Just another fish in the sea.”

Q&A with Kevin Pearce on his documentary, Sochi plans, more

Seconds after Mitrani hit the snow, Bretz and Mitrani’s girlfriend were the first to arrive. News spread. So did silence as more gathered.

“He was straight-faced,” Davis said. “You could tell he was getting in touch with his … in the zone.”

Mitrani told them his whole body tingled and he couldn’t feel his feet.

“It felt like everything seriously stopped,” said Mitrani, who practices Buddhism and can do a standing back flip, in a phone interview as his mom drove him from his house in Fallbrook, Calif., to San Diego. “It almost felt like I was floating in this weird … everything was vibrating. I didn’t know what was hurting. I was really confused. I’ve never been in a state of being that, almost like a dream state. I was so confused. When you hit your spinal cord like that everything kind of shuts down.”

His body eventually rebooted enough so that Bretz felt comfortable unhitching Mitrani from his snowboard.

“I remember my finger, then building on that,” Mitrani said. “It was the most relieving feeling.”

Coach Bower did not see the accident. He was working with another athlete at the top of the halfpipe, reviewing video of a run on a tablet. Bretz called him down.

“My first reaction?” Bower said. “I was really scared, obviously. We’ve had some nasty wrecks over the years with Kevin Pearce’s traumatic brain injury, some broken bones and stuff. This was the first time someone had sustained a serious neck injury when they were suddenly paralyzed.

“That was terrifying.”

Mitrani was placed on a backboard and dragged via snowmobile to the ski patrol station. He was grateful as he regained feeling in his arms, bent his knees and wiggled his feet.

He flew two hours on a helicopter to Christchurch, where a radiograph showed damage to the C5 vertebra in his neck. In surgery, his C4, C5 and C6 vertebrae were fused together with the aid of a plate and a piece of bone from his hip.

Mitrani spent two weeks hospitalized in New Zealand. One week was in a spinal unit, where all of his peers were in wheelchairs. He was too scared to sleep the first two nights. He heard the din of older patients with breathing problems.

“I would feel that tingling sensation in my legs and my hands,” Mitrani said. “The drugs, everything, I was paranoid. I was really not myself.”

His brother, Jack, and his mom flew to New Zealand. Mitrani couldn’t eat solid food because of throat swelling, so Jack bought a juicer.

Mitrani was very, very fortunate. He can walk now, he can shed his neck brace by year’s end and snowboard again in six to 12 months.

Mitrani was one of the first men to incorporate double corks when the trick became a must-have before the 2010 Olympics. He learned it without an air bag or safety equipment.

In 2009, he escaped serious injury from a double cork when he slammed his face on the lip of a halfpipe.

With repetition he became so comfortable with it that, earlier this year, he laid out instructions for how to do a frontside double cork 1080 in a YouTube video with explicit language. His main tip was an explicit acronym: “yolofish.”

Mitrani has said he’s broken “every bone” in his body and ruptured a spleen during a painful and precocious career. He turned pro at 10, had sponsorships with Mountain Dew and Lego shortly after losing his last baby tooth and was probably the most talented man left off the 2010 Olympic team.

Mitrani said he felt better than ever this past season, when the master of flips jumped to fifth in the World Snowboard Tour rankings with two Sprint U.S. Grand Prix podiums. He was on the short list of contenders to make the 2014 Olympic team but tried not to dwell on Sochi.

“He would be a lot more successful as a competitor if he was more focused on winning, if he had that drive that Shaun White has,” Bower said. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. He just doesn’t have that.”

Shaun White an Emmy hit on Twitter

Mitrani said he was told his neck is now more vulnerable, more fragile, more susceptible to irreparable damage if he crashes again. He’s spoken with Pearce, who at first was determined to snowboard again but changed his mind after emotional talks with his family. Mitrani is not ready to give up the sport.

“It’s definitely going to be scary to go back to snowboarding, but like everything, you take baby steps,” Mitrani said. “Snowboarding’s part of my life.”

Pearce didn’t say whether he thinks Mitrani should get back on the board.

“I put it into much better perspective for him to understand what I’m dealing with now,” Pearce said. “Obviously, they’re totally different injuries. He can really understand what I have going on with being not able to do this sport that we love so much.

“He’s going to have to find out where he’s at and how fragile his spine is now.”

Bower said he would advise Mitrani not to compete again.

“It’s super risky,” he said. “I wouldn’t within in my right mind. I like the kid too much for something horrible to happen to him.”

The free-spirited Mitrani has plenty to keep his mind off snowboarding in the short term. He spreed at Guitar Center upon flying back to California so he can start a “one-man band.” He said he’s adding chickens to his old-grandma garden of avocados, pears, tomatoes, limes and lemons.

Mitrani can’t drive, but he found a Buddhist temple with Vietnamese monks 4.5 miles from his house. He also found a new appreciation for life.

“I’m alive and breathing, and I’m just very fortunate,” Mitrani said. “It’s a good outcome.”

Details on U.S. Olympic snowboarding qualifiction timeline

Budapest withdrawing 2024 Olympic bid; now L.A. vs. Paris

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Budapest will withdraw its bid to host the 2024 Olympics, leaving Los Angeles and Paris as the two candidate cities for an IOC vote to determine the host in September.

The decision was made to avoid “a loss of international prestige” for Hungary, with its governing party saying the bid had a very small chance of success, according to The Associated Press.

The move comes five days after Budapest’s mayor said he may propose withdrawing the bid due to more than 250,000 signatures collected urging a public vote on whether to bid. The Hungarian prime minister and Budapest mayor were to meet Wednesday to discuss the bid.

Previously, Hamburg and Rome withdrew their 2024 Olympic bids. Hamburg’s bid ended in November 2015 after 51.6 percent of voters in the port city were against the bid. Rome squashed its bid in October after opposition from its new mayor.

The last time two or fewer cities were finalists for a Summer Olympics was 1988, when Seoul beat out Nagoya, Japan, in an IOC vote.

The 2022 Winter Olympics also came down to two cities, with Beijing defeating Almaty, Kazakhstan.

It is possible that both the 2024 and 2028 Olympics could be awarded at the IOC session in Lima, Peru, in September.

“This is a discussion,” IOC president Thomas Bach said on Saturday, according to the AP. “It also depends on the timing. This is, you know, why I appreciate also the public discussion.

“There are many options.”

Los Angeles and Paris are bidding to host the Olympics for a third time, which only one other city has done — London. Los Angeles previously hosted in 1932 and 1984. Paris hosted in 1900 and 1924.

The U.S. is in the midst of its longest stretch between hosting the Olympics since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960. It last hosted a Summer Games in 1996 and a Winter Games in 2002.

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Bob Costas details his favorite Olympic memories

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Bob Costas is often asked his favorite Olympic moment. He always gives the same answer.

“That’s Muhammad Ali lighting the torch in ’96 in Atlanta (video here),” Costas said after stepping down as NBC’s Olympic primetime host earlier this month. “It was such a well-kept secret that maybe 10 or 12 people in the whole world knew it was going to happen. They rehearsed it one time at 3 a.m. Dick Ebersol, who had the original idea of having Muhammad be the guy, would not tell me or Dick Enberg who it was going to be. He said, ‘You will recognize him or her. But I want your reaction to be as spontaneous as everyone else in the stadium.’

“And the way they staged it, he literally stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight. It was such an arresting moment. I’ve said this before, you hear a lot of sounds in the arena, but you seldom ever hear an audible gasp. And there was a gasp before it kind of set in. And then it turned into thunderous applause and cheering.

“And it wasn’t just excitement. It wasn’t just admiration. It was all those things plus respect, and I think an understanding that he represented so much — athletic excellence, grace. Whether everyone always agreed with him at every stage along the way, you had to respect the integrity. He walked the walk. He put millions of dollars and the prime years of his career on the line for his beliefs. And people had to respect that.

“And they were also moved by how poignant it was that the man who once was the most beautiful and nimble of athletes on the entire planet and the most entertainingly loquacious of athletes had now been reduced to a man trembling as he held the torch and a man essentially unable to speak, even by that point, and yet he was willing to present himself to the world that way. And somehow even in that new state he was a dynamic and charismatic figure and a profound figure. So if I have to pick one, that’s my one.”

It’s not the only one.

Costas’ favorite Winter Olympic moment — from the four Winter Games he covered — came on the final day of the 2010 Vancouver Games.

“When Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal,” Costas said of the men’s hockey final. “That was like the soccer goal that Brazil got this past summer. That was one that everyone else wanted to win, but the host country needed to win. I mean, the U.S. was busting its ass to win that game. They wanted it bad. But Canada was desperate to win that game. And the U.S. ties it in the last 30 seconds and sends it to overtime. So now you’ve got the drama of overtime — the whole country’s on pins and needles, it’s the last event before the Closing Ceremony. The whole triumphant feeling of the Closing Ceremony would have been very different had the Canadians lost that game. Not only did they win it, but the national golden boy Sidney Crosby scores the winning goal. You can’t ask for much more than that.”

Most of Costas’ memories were of watching Olympic events on a monitor at the international broadcast center, sometimes working 12-hour shifts.

The 2000 Sydney Games were different. Given the time difference, he finished hosting duties (primetime and late night) around 5 p.m. local time. He would then walk across Olympic Park and attend events on some days — usually basketball, gymnastics or track and field.

Costas’ favorite in-person Olympic event was Cathy Freeman taking 400m gold in Sydney “because of what she represented,” being of Aboriginal descent.

Costas also wanted to note a moment from the 2002 Salt Lake City Opening Ceremony.

“When they brought in the tattered American flag that had been at the World Trade Center on 9/11,” he said. “That was a very moving thing, and so was the Ali thing in ‘96 in Atlanta.”

A regret?

“I never saw a single Dream Team game in person,” he said. “I mean, I saw them all on monitors. I’m watching a bunch of things all at once, but I’m in a studio. It’s part of what the job is.”

And Costas’ favorite Olympics of the 12 he covered?

“I’ve always been partial to Barcelona [1992] because it was my first primetime Olympics,” he said. “Barcelona is really a fascinating city, very distinctive. … Athens [2004], although it was an imperfect Olympics, it cost the country a whole lot a financially, it meant a lot to me because I’m a Greek American.”

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