Paralympian prepared with euthanasia papers to take own life

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Marieke Vervoort lives with nearly unbroken pain. The Belgian has an incurable, degenerative spinal disease, sleeps only 10 minutes some nights, and in 2008 she signed euthanasia papers so she can decide when to end her own life.

The 37-year-old Paralympian is prepared to die, but not now. Back home, newspapers have been reporting the wheelchair racer intends to kill herself after the Paralympics end next weekend.

“I think there is a great mistake about what the press told in Belgium,” Vervoort said Sunday, speaking in English and surrounded by reporters wanting to hear her compelling story.

“This is totally out of the question,” she added. “When the day comes, when I have more bad days than good days – I have my euthanasia papers. But the time is not there yet.”

This is Vervoort’s last Paralympics. She won silver Saturday night in the T52 400 meters, adding to the gold and silver medals she won four years ago in London. Her last wheelchair race will be Saturday at 100 meters.

She’s shown her will to live by tackling tough training, and it’s also helped keep her alive. But she has to give it up, as she has other things, as her body has broken down.

Her pain is so severe at times that she loses consciousness, and she said the sight of her in pain has caused others to pass out.

“It’s too hard for my body,” Vervoort said. “Each training I’m suffering because of pain. Every race I train hard. Training and riding and doing competition are medicine for me. I push so hard – to push literally all my fear and everything away.”

Vervoort is a strong advocate of the right to choose euthanasia, which is legal in Belgium. Like training hard, she said it gives her the control and “puts my own life in my hands.”

“I’m really scared, but those (euthanasia) papers give me a lot of peace of mind because I know when it’s enough for me, I have those papers,” she said.

“If I didn’t have those papers, I think I’d have done suicide already. I think there will be fewer suicides when every country has the law of euthanasia. … I hope everybody sees that this is not murder, but it makes people live longer.”

Vervoort said getting the papers was difficult, requiring examinations by several doctors who looked at her mental and physical state. She said it’s not like having the flu.

“You only get those papers when there is no way back,” she said.

As her body withers, she needs a helper to visit four times daily. She suffers from epileptic seizures, and had one in 2014 when she was cooking pasta and spilled boiling water over her legs. That resulted in a four-month hospital stay.

A beloved Labrador named Zenn now stays with her, pawing her when a seizure is about to occur. Zenn also pulls her socks out of the sock drawer, and helps carry groceries home when Vervoort buys too much.

“When I’m going to have an epileptic attack, she warns me one hour before,” Vervoort said. “I don’t know how she feels it.”

Vervoort said she keeps pushing back the day of her death, knowing it could come anytime – as it can for anyone. She said she can be pain-free one minute, and nearly pass out a few minutes later.

“You have to live day-by-day and enjoy the little moments,” she said. “Everybody tomorrow can have a car accident and die, or a heart attack and die. It can be tomorrow for everybody.”

Vervoort calls herself a “crazy lady.” She still hopes to fly in an F-16 fighter jet, ride in a rally car, and she’s curating a museum of her life going back to at least 14 when she was diagnosed with her rare illness. She also gives inspirational speeches, has picked out a singer for her wake, and says everyone will drink champagne, and not be bored with coffee and cake.

She wants to be remembered as the lady who was “always laughing, always smiling.”

“I feel different about death now than years ago,” Vervoort said. “For me I think death is something like they operate on you, you go to sleep and you never wake up. For me it’s something peaceful.”

MORE: Rio Paralympics broadcast schedule

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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