U.S. ski jumper Nick Fairall returns to scene of horrible crash one year later

Nick Fairall

Olympic ski jumper Nick Fairall is sitting on top of the 140-meter Paul Asserleitner Schanze in Bischofshofen, Austria, staring down for a silent moment. Just like he did a year ago.

This time, however, the American doesn’t speed down the hill and fly. Instead, he rolls back his wheelchair and takes the lift down.

On Tuesday, Fairall returned to the venue where a bad crash in qualifying for the final stop of the 2015 Four Hills Tour severely hurt his spine. The main damage was a fractured and dislocated vertebra, which triggered paralysis in his legs.

Slowly but steadily recovering, the 26-year-old Andover, N.H., native is still hoping to return to ski jumping one day.

“Being here now is bittersweet, but it is the environment that I love,” he said at a news conference. “I have been ski jumping since I was six years old. It’s such an amazing sport. It’s a sport that I want to return to. Even today, I wanted to jump again so badly.”

Visiting Bischofshofen and the World Ski Flying Championships in nearby Tauplitz next week enables Fairall to personally thank “our ski jumping community that has been absolutely outstanding” in financially supporting his rehabilitation.

“So many people have come out of the woodwork; people I don’t even know, fellow jumpers, colleagues, fans of the sport,” he said while fighting tears. “I am so grateful, I can’t say it in words. I am super excited to be back here, to be able to thank everybody.”

Fairall remembers every detail of that day he crashed. Just two hours beforehand, he had a similar crash during trial jumping, though he avoided injuries and damaged only his skis.

In qualifying, he landed a routine jump of 123 meters, but leaned forward too much, lost balance, and fell awkwardly head-first.

“The moment I hit the ground, I just stuck,” he said. “I kind of knew I was going to fall … I tried to fight the fall but unfortunately the radius pulled me in, and I hit the ground pretty hard. The moment I hit the ground, I knew I hurt something.”

Fairall fractured two ribs, punctured his right lung, bruised a kidney, and had mild internal bleeding. The main issue, however, was the dislocated vertebrae.

Immediate surgery stabilized him, and he spent nearly four weeks in an Austrian clinic before flying home and starting a two-month rehab at the Kessler Institute in New Jersey.

“Each day I am making progress, little by little,” he wrote on his Facebook page in June. “I now have more feeling in my legs and some movement in my thighs. My recovery is an ongoing process and each day I continue to work towards my goal of ski jumping again.”

The following month, Fairall posted a video of him taking his first steps with crutches. In December, he went back on snow on adapted skis for the first time.

“I’ve been working exhaustingly on my rehab,” he said. “But in the meantime, I still spent time to make sure I was enjoying life, seeing my friends, seeing my teammates, seeing all the people that I love in my life.”

Fairall has competed in 13 World Cups since his debut at the traditional New Year’s event at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in 2009. Later that month he won a competition on the lower-ranked FIS Cup circuit in Eisenerz, Austria.

A year before the crash, Fairall won the U.S. trials to qualify for the Sochi Olympics, where he placed 35th on the individual large hill.

“Now, in this difficult time of my life, where I had to make a ton of changes, I am using the same mental skills I used during that preparation for success,” he said.

Fairall said he’s planning to get his pilot’s license and to write a book about his recovery. And his dream of returning as a ski jumper wasn’t over yet.

“It will always remain a goal of mine,” he said. “I will make whatever improvements I can to reach that goal.”

MORE: Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports

Asher Hong leads U.S. men’s gymnastics world team selection camp after first day

Asher Hong

Asher Hong, 18, posted the highest all-around score on the first of two days of competition at the U.S. men’s gymnastics selection camp to determine the last three spots on the team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Hong, bidding to become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009, totaled 84.6 points in Colorado Springs. He edged Colt Walker by one tenth. Tokyo Olympians Shane Wiskus (84.15) and Yul Moldauer (83.95) were next. Full apparatus-by-apparatus scores are here.

Brody Malone, who repeated as U.S. all-around champion at August’s national championships, and runner-up Donnell Whittenburg already clinched spots on the five-man team for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. They did not compete Monday, though their results from the first day of nationals are shown in the official scores.

The three remaining team spots will not necessarily go to the top three all-arounders at this week’s camp, which is supposed to be weighed equally with results from August’s nationals. Hong was third at nationals, but if excluding difficulty bonus points from that meet that will not be considered by the committee, would have finished behind Walker and Moldauer in August.

A selection committee is expected to announce the team soon after the second and final day of selection camp competition on Wednesday evening. The committee will look at overall scoring potential for the world team final, where three men go per apparatus, and medal potential in individual events.

Stephen Nedoroscik, who last year became the first American to win a world title on the pommel horse, is trying to make the team solely on that apparatus. He wasn’t at his best at nationals and struggled again on Monday, hurting his chances of displacing an all-arounder for one of the last three spots.

The U.S. has reason to emphasize the team event over individual medals at this year’s worlds. It will clinch an Olympic berth by finishing in the top three, and its medal hopes are boosted by the absence of the Russians who won the Olympic team title. All gymnasts from Belarus and Russia are banned indefinitely from international competition due to the war in Ukraine.

In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship

The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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