Nick Fairall
AP

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

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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

Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s road back through destruction, death

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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