Casey Andringa took a wild path to PyeongChang

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Every morning, the skier who was told he might not leave the hospital alive wakes up and finds the newspaper clipping.

“After a winding path of injury and illness, moguls skier Casey Andringa earns Olympic berth,” the Park Record headline reads.

“I have to look at that to remind myself that it’s real, that I didn’t dream this,” Andringa said.

The 22-year-old from Boulder, Colo., is one of four U.S. male moguls skiers who will compete here, starting with qualifying Thursday night. He is the unlikeliest Olympian of them all, among the biggest surprises on the entire 241-member U.S. Olympic team.

Andringa was 2 years old when Jonny Moseley won the 1998 Olympic moguls with his 360-degree mute grab and 6 when Moseley performed the Dinner Roll in Salt Lake City and hosted Saturday Night Live.

“I watched him at the Olympics and told my parents, ‘I want to do that!'” Andringa said.

He has competed at the senior level for nearly seven years but never placed in the top five at a national championships. That winding path of injury and illness has something to do with that (more below).

On May 9, U.S. Ski & Snowboard named the 2017-18 national team in three tiers: The A team had two male moguls skiers. The B team had two more male moguls skiers. The last tier had seven men.

Andringa didn’t make any of them, essentially putting him behind 11 men vying for four Olympic berths to be handed out in January.

He considered quitting. His dad said he would regret it for the rest of his life. So Andringa rededicated himself while spending the summer living on tuna sandwiches in a ’90s pop-up camper parked in the woods, wifi-less, with younger brother Jesse, also a moguls skier. Their dad bought it on Craigslist for $2,000. They called it the Viking.

Andringa had one more shot to prove his worth to Olympic team selectors at two lower-level events in Winter Park, Colo., one week before Christmas. Andringa knew that if he performed well, he would be given his first start on the sport’s highest level – the annual World Cup tour – in Deer Valley, Utah, three weeks later.

Not only did Andringa win, he dominated a field that included a few skiers on the 11-man national team. Andringa was given a start in Deer Valley and also in Calgary four days before that.

He finished seventh and fifth against the world’s best mogulists. He was second-best of five Americans in Calgary and second-best of 10 Americans in Deer Valley.

Andringa was named to the Olympic team two weeks later.

“He could be the guy who shows up to the Games, and he doesn’t know what he’s not supposed to do, and he could turn around and be standing on the podium,” said U.S. coach Matt Gnoza, who told Andringa in a phone call that he made the team.

“Wow,” Andringa replied to Gnoza on that call.

Andringa then phoned his dad.

“He had to pull the car over so he wouldn’t crash because he started crying,” Andringa said. “Then I started crying, and it was just a whole mess.”

When Andringa was 14, he fractured his skull in a longboarding accident in his neighborhood.

“I don’t think he ever went into a coma, but he was basically in a coma, and they didn’t know if he was going to walk again,” brother Jesse said.

When he was 18, he tore his left meniscus skiing. He tore his right one two years later. Both times, he was on the verge of making the national team.

In between, Andringa spent about eight nights combined in a hospital and clinic in Switzerland as flummoxed German-speaking doctors tried to treat him for a life-threatening head illness.

It all started at a training camp at the base of the Matterhorn in late September 2014. Andringa was with six or seven other skiers from his Vail club preparing for the season.

NBCOlympics.com: More on the U.S. freestyle team

Early in the trip, teammate Hunter Bailey noticed something.

“His face was f—— like a balloon,” Bailey said. “We were having everyone come to our room to make fun of him.”

Andringa thought it was just a really bad headache.

“I got sinus infections a lot growing up,” he said.

But the left side of his face started to droop, and his left eye was closing shut.

He was rushed to a doctor’s office. The rest of the skiers didn’t see him again for a week.

“These random things we were hearing like they might have to drill a hole in his skull,” Bailey said. “He has meningitis. His mom was coming over. It was f—— grim.”

Andringa arrived at the doctor’s office just before it closed. The doctor called an ambulance. Andringa was rushed 30 minutes north to a hospital.

“They did a bunch of CT scans and realized there was a little air bubble on the brain side of the skull,” Andringa said, which brought his seven-inch skull fracture from that longboarding accident four years earlier into the picture. If there was an infection, could it easily spread to his brain?

Andringa’s headaches persisted. So bad that he slept maybe two hours the next two or three nights. They wouldn’t give him anything other than aspirin in fear that it would mask the symptoms too much to know if he was getting worse.

His phone was out of power with no charger. Andringa lay in bed and counted the dots on the ceiling.

“We just kind of sat back at home and prayed,” Jesse said. “I never even talked to Casey at the hospital.”

Finally able to sleep, he woke up on the third or fourth day with a 105-degree fever.

“The nurse who didn’t speak English started freaking out,” Andringa said. “I was shaking uncontrollably because of how hot I was.”

Another ambulance. Andringa was rushed two hours north to the capital of Bern.

That’s when it got really bad. Andringa remembered being in a bright room with German-speaking neurosurgeons prodding his face. He couldn’t understand everything they said, but he knew emergency brain surgery was discussed.

“Finally I had enough of it, and I asked them, am I going to die?” Andringa said. “One of the guys looked at me and said [in a deep accent], ‘We do not know.'”

The brain surgery was put off for two days in the hope Andringa would improve. He did. His mom arrived just as he was ready to leave the hospital on antibiotics and an IV.

Andringa learned he had orbital cellulitis, an infection next to the thin bones separating the eye from the brain.

NBCOlympics.com: Full schedule for freestyle skiing

“The doctors, if you ask somebody about it, it’s the kind of thing hospitals will see one or two times a year,” he said. “They were worried it was turning into meningitis because bacteria was getting towards the brain.”

Andringa was finally cleared to fly home. When he arrived at the airport, he saw his Vail teammates waiting for their scheduled flight back to the States from the training camp.

“They were like hey Casey what’s up,” he said. “To them, I had just gone to the hospital, and they didn’t really know what had happened. But to me, I had like almost died.”

Andringa’s plane ticket is somewhere in his room along with that newspaper clipping. He also saved something from his skull fracture, what was left of the skateboarding helmet that exploded but saved his life.

“With all that, I try to focus on the fact that I’m here now and not the fact that it was such an unfortunate time,” Andringa said.

Andringa’s skiing helmet has the phrase “Are you afraid?” stickered on it. He takes the helmet off on the chair lift before every run and looks at it.

Andringa said he won’t be allowe­d to have the sticker on there at the Olympics due to strict apparel rules. He will probably write the phrase on a piece of paper and keep it with him.

It doesn’t remind him of the health scares, but of this past summer, when he thought about quitting the sport at age 21.

“To me it was kind of like are you afraid of this chance that you have?” Andringa said. “Are you afraid to achieve this dream you’ve had your whole life? So it’s kind of fired me up a little bit.”

Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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