Olympic downhill champ Matthias Mayer airlifted to hospital after crash (video)

Matthias Mayer
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VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — In less than a tenth of a second, safety in ski racing took a huge leap forward Saturday.

That was the time it took for a radical air bag system to inflate and apparently prevent Olympic champion Matthias Mayer from serious injury during a nasty crash at the classic Val Gardena World Cup downhill.

Mayer was having a solid run down the Saslong course until the Austrian lost control and spun around, flying down the hill backward in midair.

Before he landed on his right side in an impact that appeared very hard to the naked eye, the air bag vest under his race suit inflated and softened his landing.

“A crash can never be something favorable,” International Ski Federation (FIS) technical expert Gunter Hujara said. “(But) maybe we have seen here he was saved from a spine injury today.”

After receiving medical attention on the slope, Mayer still was airlifted to a hospital in Bolzano.

The Austrian team said late Saturday that Mayer fractured a vertebra and will likely be sidelined for only a month. He will be transferred to Innsbruck for more exams.

“It proved the air bag has an important place in speed skiing,” Austrian winter sports federation director Hans Pum said.

Organizers said Mayer initially had trouble breathing but Hujara spoke to Mayer on the slope and said the breathing problem was not due to the air bag.

It marked the first time that an air bag inflated during a World Cup race.

The system has been in development by Italian manufacturer Dainese and the FIS for years and a handful of athletes only started wearing it during races recently.

“It’s always tough to know what the injury would be like otherwise,” Canadian skier Erik Guay said. “But it’s been quite a few years in development and it’s great that it works when it’s supposed to.”

Mayer had actually already been involved in an air bag crash when he fell during training in October on the Pitztaler glacier, injuring both legs slightly. And teammate Hannes Reichelt had the system activated while inspecting a course for a training run in Copper Mountain, Colo., earlier this season.

Another air bag system developed by French manufacturer In&Motion has also been approved by the FIS, and a similar system has been in use in motorcycle racing since 2009.

In motorcycle racing, the air bag system inflates when the body leaves the bike with a forward rotation. In skiing, the moment when a racer loses complete control varies from one skier to another.

Dainese collected information from skiers by lodging special chips in their back protectors that record speed, angular rotation, acceleration and other information.

“The algorithm describes the moment when the athlete is no longer able to avoid the crash,” Hujara said.

Overall World Cup leader Aksel Lund Svindal has been testing the system in training but doesn’t race with it yet because it’s too bulky under his suit.

“I already broke one downhill suit this year when the zipper popped open,” Svindal said. “With the extra material from the air bag the zipper’s not good enough so I don’t want to stretch it too much.”

Still, Svindal welcomed the initiative.

“That’s what everyone wants to see — a big crash where you stand up and you’re good again and you can wave at the crowd instead of being transported off to hospital,” he said after winning Saturday’s race.

The current air bag protects only the shoulder, neck, back and chest areas. Dainese and the FIS are working on a system to protect the knees and hips, too.

When the air bag inflated for Reichelt during inspection, it prompted concern that it happened when it wasn’t supposed to.

After all, nobody wants to turn into the Michelin Man while hurtling themselves down the mountain at more than 100 kpm (more than 60 mph).

Dainese’s Marco Pastore said the system worked as it was supposed to for Reichelt and prevented a shoulder injury.

Hujara also sought to calm concern over premature inflations, noting that out of eight sensors, five must be over a certain limit for activation to occur.

“The athlete may feel he is still able to (recover) but his body is already in a condition where the computer tells the system, ‘OK, now go,'” Hujara said. “It’s much better that it inflates one time too early than one time too late.”

Another worry has been aerodynamics but wind tunnel testing has shown that it’s just as fast, or perhaps even faster, than skiers’ usual back protectors — which the vests connect to.

Also new in skiing safety: protective long underwear that can’t be cut. That would come in handy for parallel races where skiers often crash into each other and get cut by knife-sharp ski edges.

“It’s on the market,” Hujara said of the textile material. “Athletes know it since four years and every year we remind them, ‘Please use it.'”

While neither the air bag system nor protective underwear are mandatory, the FIS hopes that all World Cup racers will use them.

“We can only advise the athletes and (say), ‘Look, this is what we have. This is what we developed for you. Now think about it,'” Hujara said.

MORE: Lindsey Vonn goes airborne, skis out of race in France

2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France vs. Mali Group B
4 a.m. Australia vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada vs. Japan Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final

Annemiek van Vleuten, with broken elbow, becomes oldest to win world road race title

Annemiek van Vleuten
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WOLLONGONG, Australia — Annemiek van Vleuten surprised herself and the rest of cycling by recording the finest win of her career on Saturday at the world road championships.

Overcoming an elbow fracture sustained three days earlier, the Dutch great won her second world road race title with an attack in the last 600 meters that caught the other eight leaders napping.

The 39-year-old rider and her Dutch teammates were in disbelief at the finish after she put the exclamation mark on a 164.3-kilometer event. She became the oldest man or woman to win a world championships road race, according to Gracenote.

The 2019 World champion and reigning Olympic and world time trial winner claimed cycling’s triple crown this year when she landed the Italian, French and Spanish tours.

But for Van Vleuten, who will retire at the end of next season, what she did on Saturday was extra special.

“Maybe this is my best victory . . . I am still speechless, I still can’t believe it,” she said. “It took me some time to realize I’d really pulled it off because I’m waiting for the moment that they tell me there was someone in front or it was a joke. I had the feeling it cannot be true.”

She crashed in Wednesday’s mixed team relay at the worlds and sustained the fracture, describing the pain during Saturday’s race as “hell.”

The win also continues the domination of the Dutch women, who have finished on the road race podium at all but three of the last 20 worlds.

Earlier Saturday, Britain’s Zoe Backstedt celebrated her 18th birthday by turning the junior road event into a one-woman race.

In wet and cold conditions, Backstedt cycled away from the peloton with a solo attack at 10 kms and stayed clear for the remaining 57 kms to win by more than two minutes. Eglantine Rayer of France was second ahead of Dutch rider Nienke Vinke.

Backstedt retained her junior road race title and also is a world champion on the track and in cyclocross.

The championships end Sunday with the men’s road race.

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