Getty Images

Olympic medalist rides bike 18 months after crash, paralysis (video)

Leave a comment

Sam Willoughby rode a BMX bike in a video published Thursday, another sign of progress from a September 2016 training crash that temporarily left him with no feeling below his chest.

Willoughby, a 2012 Olympic BMX silver medalist for Australia, realized a goal on New Year’s Eve. With the aid of a walker, he walked his fiancée, 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist Alise Post, down the aisle at their wedding. They also danced together to Ed Sheeran‘s “Perfect.”

“It’s fantastic. Life is good,” Willoughby, who turns 27 on Aug. 15, said on a podcast published in February. “It’s a little bit different, obviously, than what I had planned at 27.”

Willoughby gave Post a note on their wedding day saying that she saved his life.

“It gave me so much to fight for when tragedy struck,” Willoughby said of their plan to get married (Willoughby proposed in December 2015). “It gave me a purpose. I wanted to be alive with her.”

On Sept. 10, 2016, Willoughby was warming up on a rhythm section of little jumps on a BMX track he had ridden daily for six years at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. He lost control, backflipped and landed on the top of his head, breaking his neck.

“When I was in the hospital, they used terms like quadriplegic,” Willoughby said. “They didn’t really give me a lot of hope.”

When Post arrived at the hospital, Willoughby told her that he would understand if she didn’t go through with the marriage.

“I didn’t want to be a burden on her life,” he said. “She said I’m not going anywhere.”

The next month, Willoughby said he had regained full movement in his arms, weak movement in his hands and spasms and sensations in his toes and legs when they were touched.

Willoughby was released to go home on Dec. 31, 2016, and since progressed through therapy six days per week. By July, he could pedal a stationary bike for 30 minutes and crawl with weights around his ankles, according to the (Adelaide) Advertiser. By the end of 2017, he could do squats and drive a car, according to the Australian Associated Press.

It took him months of practice to walk with aid at his wedding.

“I keep chipping away at it every day, not knowing what the future holds,” Willoughby said on the podcast. “I know what the future holds if I stop.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. sweeps world titles in BMX

Justin Morneau nixes Olympic baseball qualifying return

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins, was taken off Canada’s Olympic baseball qualifying roster before he would have played his first competitive game in more than two years.

Morneau, 38, experienced an unspecified setback in training and was replaced on Canada’s roster for next month’s Premier12. The global tournament marks the first opportunity for many world baseball powers to qualify for the sport’s return to the Olympics.

Morneau never played in the Olympics before baseball was cut from the Games after 2008; active MLB players have never competed in the Games. But he was on Canada’s roster at all four World Baseball Classics from 2006 through 2017.

At November’s Premier12, the top nation from North and South America will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan and Israel are already qualified. Those that do not qualify will get another chance next year.

Morneau could become the second Major League Baseball MVP to play Olympic baseball as a medal sport. The other was Jason Giambi, who made the U.S. team in 1992, the same summer he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Joe Girardi replaced as U.S. baseball manager by World Series champion

Kolohe Andino is first U.S. Olympic surfing qualifier; Kelly Slater faces last chance

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kolohe Andino is the first American to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, which leaves one spot left for 47-year-old Kelly Slater to chase at the final contest of the season.

Andino, a 25-year-old Californian whose first name means “rascal” in Hawaiian, clinched his place in Tokyo on Friday at the penultimate stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour in Portugal. He is ranked fifth in the world, trailing a trio of Brazilians.

One more American man will join Andino on the Olympic team. It will be one of Slater, the 11-time world champion, John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World champion, and rising 22-year-old Hawaiian Seth Moniz.

Slater was handed a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence announced in early July that he tore an ACL for the second time in 13 months. Florence had won two of the first five events this season.

Slater has been chasing the sidelined Florence in the standings ever since. But it has not been easy.

Slater hasn’t made the quarterfinals in any of his last seven contests going into December’s finale — the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July, noting a back injury. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, who won the Pipe Masters seven times between 1992 and 2013, must reach the quarterfinals at this year’s event to have any chance of passing Florence to qualify for the Olympics.

Complicating matters: Florence said in August it was his “goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” according to ESPN.com. If Florence does return for the December contest, and makes the quarterfinals, Slater could only pass him with a victory.

Moniz goes into the finale ranked one spot behind Slater, meaning he, too, can grab that second and final Olympic spot with a win or a runner-up.

Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!