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.”

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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

U.S. bobsled, skeleton athletes ready to skip world championships

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 15:  Kyle Tress of the United States makes a run during the Men's Skeleton on Day 8 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Sliding Center Sanki on February 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Olympians voted to recommend boycotting February’s world championships in Sochi if the event is not relocated out of the doping-tainted nation, according to The New York Times.

U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton’s athlete advisory committee voted unanimously in recent days, according to the report. Listed members of the committee include Olympic skeleton sliders Matthew Antoine and Kyle Tress.

“There’s tremendous support to skip this event, and I think it’s the right decision,” Tress said, according to the report.

At least 15 Russian medalists from the Sochi Olympics, including bobsledders and skeleton sliders, were on a state-run doping program leading into those Winter Games, according to the newspaper’s report in May. Russian doping samples were also tampered with at the Sochi Olympics, according to the report.

Those are primary reasons why bobsled and skeleton athletes in the U.S. and Europe have voiced concern about competing in Sochi in February.

Olympic champions Lizzy Yarnold (skeleton) and Steven Holcomb (bobsled) said earlier this fall that they may skip worlds, and men’s skeleton stars Martins and Tomass Dukurs might, too, according to Latvian media.

“We discussed this as a team, we’re up in the air,” Holcomb said last month. “We don’t know what we’re going to do yet. Safety is a concern. What are the chances I go there, and all of a sudden Russian anti-doping tests me, and I [falsely] test positive? That wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Being outspoken, yeah I’m a little nervous about going there.”

On July 19, following rampant Russian anti-doping issues, the IOC asked all winter sports federations to “freeze their preparations for major events in Russia, such as world championships … and to actively look for alternative organizers.”

The IOC later clarified that statement, telling federations it did not apply to events whose host cities were already chosen, according to Inside the Games. The 2017 World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships were awarded to Sochi in June 2013.

The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) said it will not comment until after the second part of McLaren report into Russian doping is published Friday.

The World Cup bobsled and skeleton season started last weekend in Whistler, B.C. Both Russians who won 2014 Olympic skeleton medals competed in Whistler, seven months after the New York Times reported their names were on the Sochi doping list.

Alexander Tretiakov, a 2014 Olympic champion, finished second in Whistler, one spot ahead of Antoine. Elena Nikitina, a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, finished 17th out of 25 racers in Whistler.

Nikitina won bronze in Sochi by .04 over American Katie Uhlaender. Uhlaender did not race in Whistler but is on the U.S. team for World Cups this season.

“Sochi is in Russia, and it’s the place where the cheating happened,” Uhlaender said, according to The New York Times. “I’m confused at how the IOC said what it said, and we’re still holding our world championships there.”

MORE: Bobsled, luge, skeleton broadcast schedule

*Correction: Olympic medalist bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor is listed on U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton’s athlete advisory council webpage, but she said Monday she resigned her position on the athletes advisory council in July.

World Short Course Swimming Championships broadcast schedule

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08:  Chad Le Clos of South Africa looks on before the second Semifinal of the Men's 200m Butterfly on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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NBC Sports will live stream every session of the world short-course swimming championships in Windsor, Ontatio, from Tuesday through Sunday.

NBCSN will air live finals coverage Thursday, Friday and Sunday, plus highlights on Saturday. Universal HD will have finals coverage Tuesday and Wednesday.

The world short course championships are held in 25-meter pools, versus 50-meter pools for the Olympics.

This year’s meet includes 10 U.S. Olympians and Rio medalists Katinka Hosszu of Hungary, Mitch Larkin and Emily Seebohm of Australia, Chad le Clos of South Africa and Penny Oleksiak of Canada.

The daily event schedule is here. Full results will be here.

MORE: Hosszu takes Swimmer of the Year over Ledecky

Day Time (ET) Network
Tuesday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Tuesday 6:30 p.m. NBCSports.com/live
Tuesday 9 p.m.* Universal HD
Wednesday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Wednesday 6:30 p.m. NBCSports.com/live
Wednesday 9 p.m.* Universal HD
Thursday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Thursday 6:30 p.m. NBCSN/NBCSports.com/live
Friday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Friday 6:30 p.m. NBCSN/NBCSports.com/live
Saturday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Saturday 6:30 p.m. NBCSports.com/live
Saturday 9:30 p.m.* NBCSN/NBCSports.com/live
Sunday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Sunday 6:30 p.m. NBCSN/NBCSports.com/live

*Same-day delay coverage