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

2023 French Open men’s singles draw, scores

French Open Men's Draw
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They could meet in the semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

No. 9 Taylor Fritz, No. 12 Frances Tiafoe and No. 16 Tommy Paul are the highest-seeded Americans, all looking to become the first U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003. Since then, five different American men combined to make the fourth round on eight occasions.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback


Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

Also Wednesday, 108th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis ousted three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in four and a half hours. Wawrinka’s exit leaves Novak Djokovic as the lone man in the draw who has won the French Open and Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz as the lone men left who have won any major.

The top seed Alcaraz beat 112th-ranked Taro Daniel of Japan 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. The Spaniard gets 26th seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada in the third round. Djokovic, the No. 3 seed, swept 83rd-ranked Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (2), 6-0, 6-3 to reach a third-round date with 29th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

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