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

Paris 2024 Olympic bid logo unveiled on Arc de Triomphe

Paris 2024
Paris 2024
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The Paris 2024 Olympic bid logo was unveiled at the Arc de Triomphe at 20:24 (8:24 p.m.) on Tuesday.

The logo is a representation of the number 24 and a modern interpretation of the Eiffel Tower.

Paris, seeking to host the Olympics on the 100-year anniversary of its second time holding the Games, is bidding against Budapest, Los Angeles and Rome.

Paris hopes to become the second city to host the Olympics three times, joining London.

International Olympic Committee members will vote to choose the 2024 Olympic host city in September 2017.

MORE: 2024 Olympic bidding coverage

 

Paris 2024

Two years to Pyeongchang: Updates on Sochi Olympic medalists

The Army Capt. Fogt will go back on active duty in May, heading to Fort Huachuca in Arizona. He expects to spend six months there and then around a year and a half “wherever the Army sends me.”
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The Winter Olympic cycle reaches its halfway point this month, with Tuesday marking the two-years-out date from the Pyeongchang 2018 Opening Ceremony, the first Winter Games held in South Korea.

With that in mind, here’s what the 2014 U.S. Olympic medalists have been up to in the last two years:

Sage Kotsenburg (Gold, Snowboard Slopestyle): One of the surprise Sochi champions finished fifth at the 2015 Winter X Games and 10th at last month’s edition in Aspen. Kotsenburg, who made the X Games slopestyle podium once in seven tries, said he would like to compete in both slopestyle and the new event of big air in Pyeongchang.

Jamie Anderson (Gold, Snowboard Slopestyle): The first female U.S. Olympic medalist in Sochi placed second at the 2015 and 2016 Winter X Games, doing so in the most recent edition two months after breaking her collarbone.

Kaitlyn Farrington (Gold, Snowboard Halfpipe): Announced her retirement on Jan. 15, 2015, after a doctor told her she can never snowboard again due to a congenital spine condition she learned of in fall 2014. Farrington will be the first Olympic women’s halfpipe champion who will not attempt to defend her title.

Joss Christensen (Gold, Ski Slopestyle): A dog bit him while in Sarajevo shooting a ski film in 2014. He needed 30 to 40 injections, including rabies and tetanus shots. Christensen came back to earn his first X Games medal, a silver, in 2015, and finished ninth last month.

Meryl DavisCharlie White (Gold, Figure Skating): The first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions haven’t competed since Sochi but haven’t retired, either. White said in October they would probably have to return no later than halfway through the 2016-17 season if the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games are their target.

David Wise (Gold, Ski Halfpipe): Wise and his wife welcomed their second child in summer 2014. In competition, he followed up his three straight X Games titles from 2012 through 2014 with a fourth-place finish in 2015 and an eighth last month, when he competed after separating his collarbone the week before.

Ted Ligety (Gold, Alpine Skiing): The man known as Mr. GS finished the 2014 Olympic season by earning his fifth World Cup giant slalom season title on a tiebreaker. He three-peated as World giant slalom champion last year, but injuries have slowed him on the World Cup circuit, including a January torn ACL that ended his current season.

Maddie Bowman (Gold, Ski Halfpipe): Ran her X Games winning streak to four with victories the last two years, coming back after knee surgeries in May 2014 and February 2015.

Mikaela Shiffrin (Gold, Alpine Skiing): The youngest Olympic slalom champion ran her World Cup slalom title streak to three in 2014 and 2015. She also repeated as World champion last year. This season, Shiffrin suffered an MCL tear and bone fracture in a Dec. 12 crash but hopes to return to competition Monday.

Devin Logan (Silver, Ski Slopestyle): Fourth and seventh at Winter X Games the last two years. Logan, who also competes in ski halfpipe, returned after dislocating a shoulder at the Dew Tour Mountain Championships in December.

Gus Kenworthy (Silver, Ski Slopestyle): Earned his first X Games Aspen medals, silver in ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle, in January after coming out as gay Oct. 22.

Noelle Pikus-Pace (Silver, Skeleton): Retired after her emotional silver medal in Sochi.

Andrew Weibrecht (Silver, Alpine Skiing): Earned his first career World Cup podium in his 117th start on Dec. 5 and added a second Jan. 22 after coming back from a 2014 preseason crash and concussion.

Elana Meyers Taylor (Silver, Bobsled): Became the first U.S. woman to pilot a World Championships-winning bobsled last February. Sidelined by long-term concussion effects in December but won in her World Cup return Saturday.

Lauryn Williams (Silver, Bobsled): Announced her retirement Feb. 12, 2015, after coming back from Sochi to do four World Cup races that season.

U.S. Women’s Hockey Team (Silver): Exacted revenge from rival Canada by winning the 2015 World Championship, 7-5, after squandering a 5-2 lead. Sochi stars Hilary KnightMeghan Duggan and goalie Jessie Vetter were part of that team. Amanda Kessel sat out nearly two years after Sochi due to a concussion she sustained before the Winter Games and returned to play for the University of Minnesota last Friday.

U.S. Men’s Short Track Speed Skating Team (Silver): From the 5000m relay team, Eddy Alvarez and Jordan Malone retired, with Alvarez moving up the Chicago White Sox minor-league system. J.R. Celski took the 2014-15 season off, returned this season, suffered a knee injury at the U.S. Championships in January and was not on the announced team for the remaining World Cups and World Championships this winter. Chris Creveling continues to compete.

Hannah Kearney (Bronze, Moguls): Retired after tying the record for most World Cup moguls victories with her 46th on March 16 and earning the World Cup season title.

Jeremy Abbott (Bronze, Figure Skating): Changed his plans to retire after the 2013-14 season after placing a career-best-matching fifth at the March 2014 World Championships. Was fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships and chose to take the 2015-16 season off from competition.

Gracie Gold (Bronze, Figure Skating): Fifth at the March 2014 Worlds, fourth at the 2015 Worlds and reclaimed her U.S. title last month. Expects 2018 to be her final Olympic run.

Ashley Wagner (Bronze, Figure Skating): Seventh at the March 2014 Worlds, captured her third U.S. title in January 2015 and then was fifth at the March 2015 Worlds. Along with Gold and Polina Edmunds, hopes to become the first U.S. female singles skater to earn an Olympic or Worlds medal since 2006 at this year’s Worlds in Boston next month.

Marissa CastelliSimon Shnapir (Bronze, Figure Skating): Ended their pairs partnership after placing 11th at the March 2014 Worlds. Castelli now skates with Mervin Tran, and they finished third at the U.S. Championships last month. Shnapir paired with DeeDee Leng last season, after which he retired.

Julia Mancuso (Bronze, Alpine Skiing): Cut her 2014-15 season short due to hip pain and the underwent surgery in November, keeping her out for the entire 2015-16 season.

Erin Hamlin (Bronze, Luge): Fourth and eighth at the 2014 and 2015 World Luge Championships, after becoming the first U.S. Olympic singles medalist in Sochi. Hamlin won her first two-run World Cup race on Dec. 5 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kelly Clark (Bronze, Snowboard Halfpipe): Second to teenage sensation Chloe Kim at the 2015 Winter X Games and fifth this year, her worst finish in nine years.

Nick Goepper (Bronze, Ski Slopestyle): Won his third straight X Games ski slopestyle title in 2015 and was 11th this year.

Matthew Antoine (Bronze, Skeleton): Fourth in last year’s World Cup standings and sixth this year. Struggled with depression after Sochi, almost walking away from the sport.

Bode Miller (Bronze, Alpine Skiing): Competed once since Sochi, severing his right hamstring tendon in a 2015 World Championships super-G crash. Sitting out this season and called a sixth Olympics at age 40 in 2018 “really unlikely” before saying there’s a “good likelihood” he races again.

U.S. Men’s Bobsled Team (Bronze, Two-Man and Four-Man): Steven Holcomb piloted a sled to a World Cup podium finish for the first time in nearly two years with a win Jan. 8. The 2010 Olympic four-man champion was slowed last season by a torn Achilles from Sochi and this season by a quadriceps strain that rendered him unable to push his sled. Fellow two-time Sochi bronze medalist Steven Langton retired, as did four-man bronze medalist Curt Tomasevicz. Army Capt. Chris Fogt, also part of the four-man team, said in April 2014 he expected to spend at least the next two years on active duty.

Alex Deibold (Bronze, Snowboard Cross): Eliminated in the semifinals and quarterfinals of the 2014 and 2015 Winter X Games.

Jamie Greubel Poser (Bronze, Bobsled): Made the podium in 10 straight World Cup races in 2015 and 2016 and looks to earn her first World Championships medal on Saturday.

Aja Evans (Bronze, Bobsled): Said in Sochi she would switch to heptathlon and later had ACL surgery.

MORE: 16 Olympic sports events to watch in 2016 (before the Rio Games)