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Snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington, forced to retire early, not staying grounded

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Kaitlyn Farrington lost her Olympic gold medal. Two weeks passed, and it still hadn’t turned up. She was ready to ransack her home.

“My parents wanted to kill me, because I went through a moment of saying, ‘I have no idea where it is, mom and dad,'” said Farrington, who grew up in Idaho and then moved to Utah. “And they’re like, really Kaitlyn?”

Time was running out.

Farrington was scheduled to fly to New York earlier this month for a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association fundraiser, where several other Olympians from the past 50 years would display their medals.

The day before her flight, Farrington sat on a bed and felt something weird. She lifted the mattress and found her Sochi gold.

Farrington lists her place on Airbnb due to frequent travels and apparently stuffed her medal there (and locked the room) during a recent leave.

“It hides in drawers or wherever. It’s around. It’s out and about,” Farrington joked after arriving in New York. “My medal’s a little dinged up because I’ve had a lot of fun with it.”

Farrington was one of the surprises of the Sochi Winter Games. She arrived in Russia as the only member of the four-woman U.S. halfpipe team without a major victory.

Then she beat an Olympic field that included the past three gold medalists — Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter and Torah Bright.

Less than a year later, Farrington emotionally announced her retirement at age 25 due to a degenerative spine condition. She learned of her congenital cervical stenosis after a fall 2014 crash that left her unable to feel anything for two minutes.

Farrington was fortunate she had never done permanent damage. If she had known about the condition earlier in life, she may never have become a snowboarder.

In retiring from halfpipe, Farrington made a deal with her longtime doctor, U.S. snowboard team physician Tom Hackett.

“I just have to keep my feet on the ground,” Farrington said in her retirement interview published Jan. 19, 2015. “I still want to be a professional snowboarder, I just have to figure out what that means.”

Farrington worked it out to continue strapping on her board the last 19 months. It’s not the same one she rode in Sochi, though. Farrington is occupying her time coaching, riding and filming, traveling the world as a back-country snowboarder.

“I definitely don’t think about the Olympics as much because that’s not who I am anymore,” said Farrington, before cutting off her words and offering a correction. “Or, right now, I feel like [if I was] a [halfpipe] rider, I’d be thinking about going into the next Olympics. My full pace has changed in the past three years, and now I am a back-country rider. I used to be a halfpipe rider.”

She’s not performing flips, twists or frontside airs, but she’s far from grounded. Farrington summited Alaska’s Denali, the highest peak in North America, in June.

She also trekked through Argentina and Chile during the South American winter, when she watched the Rio Olympics on TV and bawled during award ceremonies.

“Because I knew everything they were going through,” she said.

Farrington also has plans later this fall to work in Kazakhstan with a filmmaker who described himself as a splitboard mountaineer.

At some point in the last 19 months, Farrington said she re-fell in love with snowboarding, riding the way she first learned the sport. But then there are also these moments.

“I get a little jittery sometimes when I want to leave the ground,” said Farrington, who would risk paralysis with a fall, “but I always know better.”

When she was diagnosed two years ago, some doctors told her she could never snowboard again. Some today say they can’t believe she’s still snowboarding.

Hackett, who offered her that deal to snowboard without leaving her feet, is the one whose opinion matters most of all. Farrington sees him every six months for MRIs and has him on speed dial for more spontaneous communication.

“I’m like, so, can I go on this roller coaster?” Farrington will ask him. “He’s like, eh, not the best choice, Kaitlyn.”

Hackett urges Farrington to discuss a surgery that she said would lessen her risk should she be in any whiplash situation. The procedure would also be extensive enough to keep her from riding for at least one year.

Farrington avoids the conversation.

“It would really be the end of my snowboard career,” she said. “[The surgery] wouldn’t put me back in a halfpipe. [My back] feels fine. Why go under the knife if you don’t have to?”

MORE: Snowboarder on Time’s Most Influential Teens list

Olympic ski cross champion suffers serious knee injury

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Canadian Marielle Thompson, the reigning Olympic and World Cup ski cross champion, ruptured an ACL and MCL in a training crash in Switzerland.

Alpine Canada did not say when the accident happened or what Thompson’s chances are of returning to defend her Olympic title in PyeongChang.

Thompson flew from Switzerland to Vancouver for an MRI that confirmed the injury.

“I’ll be making a plan with my team moving forward and when the time is right getting back on the ski cross course stronger than ever,” Thompson said in a press release.

Thompson, 25, tore a meniscus in January 2015 and returned to competition 11 months later. She won seven of the 13 World Cup races last season.

Other Olympic medal contenders include Swede Sandra Näslund and Swiss Fanny Smith.

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Nathan Chen leads Yuzuru Hanyu at Grand Prix opener (video)

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U.S. champion Nathan Chen hopes to become comfortable in this spot this season — ahead of reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu in the standings.

The 18-year-old Chen landed two quadruple jumps in his short program at the opening Grand Prix event in Moscow, taking a 5.69-point lead over Hanyu going into Saturday’s free skate.

Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia topped the women’s short program with 80.75 points (one tenth off her world record).

Full Rostelecom Cup results are here.

Chen’s tally — 100.54 points — is the second-highest short of his flourishing international career. It would have been higher if not for two of his three jumping passes receiving negative grades of execution for wonky landings.

The Japanese megastar Hanyu fell on his final jump, a triple toe loop, on Friday. No matter, Winnie the Pooh bears rained down on the ice from the adoring crowd, many of whom traveled from Japan.

Hanyu scored 94.85 points, one month after breaking his world record short program score with 112.72 points in a small event in Canada.

“Today I made some mistakes in my short program, but overall it didn’t feel bad,” Hanyu said, according to the International Skating Union.

Hanyu, though he is the current PyeongChang favorite, has never won his season-opening Grand Prix event in seven tries.

Chen has now outscored Hanyu, who is four years older, in four of their last eight head-to-head skates.

Hanyu was better in the two biggest programs at last season’s world championships. Chen placed sixth at worlds in April, perhaps gassed at the end of his first senior season while competing on duct-taped skates.

In the women’s standings, Medvedeva topped Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy by 6.13 points.

American Mirai Nagasu landed a triple Axel that was called under rotated and fell on her other two jumping passes. She ended up ninth, two spots behind U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell.

In the short dance, two-time world medalists and U.S. champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani tallied 77.30 points.

The siblings lead by .97 over Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev going into the free dance.

Russians are one-two in pairs. World bronze medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov by 5.49.

All of the free skates are Saturday, live on Olympic Channel. A full schedule is here.

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Rostelecom Cup
Men’s Short
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 100.54
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 94.85
3. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.77
11. Grant Hochstein (USA) — 67.56

Women’s Short
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 80.75
2. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 74.64
3. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 69.60
7. Mariah Bell (USA) — 63.85
9. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 56.15

Short Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 77.30
2. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 76.33
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 71.32
7. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 59.41

Pairs Short
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 76.88
2. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 71.39
3. Valentina Marchei/Ondřej Hotárek (ITA) — 68.48
7. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 54.37