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.

Who is Italy’s greatest Olympian?

Alberto Tomba
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Italy ranks sixth on the total Olympic medal list, thanks in large part to its fencers. Italian fencers have won a leading 125 medals, more than double the nation’s total in any other sport. The Italians are known for their personalities, from La Bomba to the Cannibal, with six of their best detailed here …

Deborah Compagnoni
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only Alpine skier to earn gold at three straight Olympics. Compagnoni overcame a broken knee as a junior racer and life-saving surgery to remove 27 inches of her intestine in 1990 to win the Albertville 1992 super-G by 1.8 seconds. It remains the largest margin of victory in the discipline for either gender since 1968. The following day, Compagnoni tore knee ligaments in the giant slalom. She returned to win the GS at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Compagnoni ended her Olympic career with the biggest rout in a GS at a Winter Games, prevailing by 1.41 seconds in Nagano.

Klaus Dibiasi
Diving
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only diver to win the same individual event three times. The Austrian-born Dibiasi took platform silver in 1964 at age 17, then three straight golds through 1976. Dibiasi was coached by his father, who was 10th on platform at the 1936 Berlin Games. In his final Olympics, Dibiasi held off a 16-year-old Greg Louganis, who would go on to challenge, if not overtake, Dibiasi as the greatest male diver in history.

Eugenio Monti
Bobsled
Six Olympic Medals

Regarded by many as the greatest bobsled driver in history. Monti captured two silver medals in 1956, missed the 1960 Winter Games that didn’t include bobsled, then two bronzes in 1964 and a pair of golds at age 40 in 1968. On top of that, the nine-time world champion is remembered for an act of sportsmanship in 1964. In between runs, Monti lent a bolt off his own two-man sled to a British team whose sled was damaged. The Brits took gold, ahead of both Italian sleds.

Alberto Tomba
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

“La Bomba” dazzled by sweeping the giant slalom and slalom at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, after dubbing himself the “Messiah of Skiing“ beforehand. Known for his man-about-town ways, Tomba offered one of his gold medals to East German figure skater Katarina Witt should she fall short in her event. After Witt repeated as gold medalist, the story goes that Tomba showed up with a bouquet of roses and an autographed picture of himself, made out out to “Katerina.” “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.,” Tomba once said. “Now I live it up with five women until 3 a.m,”

Valentina Vezzali
Fencing
Six Olympic Gold Medals

An 18-year-old Vezzali was an alternate for the 1992 Olympics, forced to watch on TV as the Italian women took team foil gold. Vezzali made the next five Olympics, winning medals in all nine of her events, including three straight individual titles, the last as a mom. Vezzali finished her career with nine total Olympic medals, 25 world championships medals, a flag bearer honor at the 2012 Opening Ceremony and as a member of Italy’s parliament.

Armin Zoeggeler
Luge
Six Olympic Medals

“The Cannibal” retired in 2014 as the first athlete to earn a medal in the same individual event at six straight Olympics. Zoeggeler earned silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1998, then overtook German legend Georg Hackl for gold in 2002, followed by winning at home in Torino in 2006. He held on for bronze medals in 2010 and 2014, behind the new German luge star, Felix Loch, who would be coached by Hackl. Growing up on top of a steep hill, Zoeggeler began sledding at age 7 to catch the school bus at the bottom.

GREATEST OLYMPIANS: Germany | Liechtenstein | Japan

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Kurt Angle recalls devastation, exultation of Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Kurt Angle doesn’t remember much from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but he won’t forget that moment of deep emotional pain.

In the 100kg final, Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi were tied 1-1 after regulation and an overtime period.. Eight total minutes of wrestling. They also had the same number of passivity calls, forcing a judges’ decision to determine the gold medalist.

After deliberation, the referee stood between each wrestler in the middle of the mat. He held each’s wrist, ready to reveal the champion to the Georgia World Congress Center crowd — and to the athletes. Angle, now 51, has rarely watched video of the match. But he distinctly remembers, in his peripheral vision, Jadidi’s left arm rising.

“I thought I lost,” Angle said by phone this week. “So right away, I was like, s—, four more years.”

Turns out, the Iranian was raising his own arm. An instant later, the referee suppressed Jadidi. He lifted Angle’s right arm. The wrestler sobbed.

“I had so much emotion because I was devastated and then I was told that I won,” Angle said. “It was a very odd experience. I didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like my father died all over again. That’s how much grief I had. Then, all of a sudden, you won.”

Angle thought of two people immediately after he won, falling to his knees in prayer. First, his father, David, who died in a construction accident when Angle was 16. Second, the 1984 Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz, his coach who was murdered by John du Pont six months before the Games.

Angle went on to become one of the most famous U.S. gold medalists of the Atlanta Games, due largely to a two-decade career as a professional wrestler, including as a world heavyweight champion with the WWE.

It would have been different if the referee kept Jadidi’s arm in the air. Angle went into the Olympics knowing it would be his last competition, but only if he took gold. Anything less, and he would continue on, perhaps into his 30s and the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite everything Angle went through just to get to Atlanta.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, Angle lost Schultz, broke his neck at the U.S. Open and, five minutes before each match at the Olympic Trials, received 12 shots of novocaine to numb the pain long enough to advance to the next round. Angle later developed a painkiller addiction.

Angle, a Pennsylvania native, was part of the Foxcatcher club when du Pont shot and killed Schultz. Angle said he wasn’t consulted for the 2014 film “Foxcatcher,” but he thought it was well done save a few instances of dramatic license.

“Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but if it weren’t for Team Foxcatcher, I probably wouldn’t have won my gold medal,” Angle said. “I probably wouldn’t have known Dave Schultz, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. It sucks because, to have to thank John du Pont for the ability of allowing me to pay me to wrestle full time and win a world championship [in 1995] and Olympic gold medal, that was huge, but he killed Dave Schultz. The club would have thrived to this day. It just sucks it turned out the way it did, because it made me the best wrestler in the world. Dave Schultz had a lot to do with that, but a lot of wrestlers that followed could have not had to worry about money and could have trained and competed.”

Angle shared his gold medal with, he estimated, thousands of people before housing it in a safe.

“The gold was wearing off,” Angle said. “One kid, I remember, I was at an elementary school, and he grabbed my medal by the ribbon and started twirling it around real fast. He let go of it, and it hit the wall. There’s a big dent in my gold medal. That was the last time I brought it to an elementary school.”

Angle announced in 2011, at age 42, that he was training to come back for the 2012 Olympic Trials. He never made it, calling it off with a knee injury.

“But I trained hard for it,” Angle said, noting he still kept up appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. “I will tell you this, I wouldn’t have made the team. My goal was to place in the top three. I just missed the [thrill of] competition.”

It meant that Angle’s last match remained that Olympic final. His last moment as a freestyle wrestler having his arm raised.

“All I wanted to do was win a world championship and an Olympic gold medal, and I did them both,” Angle said, sobbing, just off the mat that night in Atlanta. “If I died tonight, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”

MORE: Most decorated U.S. female Olympian on front line of coronavirus fight

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