‘Do not let me die’: Olympic skier Aaron Blunck details halfpipe crash aftermath

Aaron Blunck
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Olympic halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck lacerated a kidney, broke ribs, fractured his pelvis and even bruised his heart. Before he learned all that, he thought it could have been much worse.

Blunck, the reigning world champion, shared video of a preseason training crash in Switzerland last month, when he was working on a switch double cork 1440. The 24-year-old from Colorado previously landed it in practice, but no skier has ever landed the trick in halfpipe competition.

Blunck lifted out of the halfpipe and flipped twice while spinning before striking the lip of the pipe on the way down. His shoulder smacked the snow first. One of his skis detached as he fell into the flat bottom.

“The first thing I remember was the pain,” Blunck said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “I just shut my eyes, and I was just screaming in immediate, horrible pain, and thinking to myself, ‘This is bad. This is really not good.’ And I knew if I was already in that much pain after having so much adrenaline just before the crash  …honestly, it crossed my mind that I might die.”

U.S. coach Mike Riddle stopped filming Blunck’s run from the opposite lip and rushed to him.

“I had grabbed Riddle’s hand, and I was just like, ‘Do not let me die. Do not let me die. But if I do die, tell everyone that I love skiing, I love my fiancée, and I love my family and friends. Tell them that,'” Blunck said, according to FIS. “So I laid there just trying to breathe, thinking how bad it was, in the worst pain I could ever imagine. … I pretty much felt like I was on my way to a body bag.”

Riddle said Blunck’s quote might not have been verbatim, as he remembered it, but the sentiment was accurate.

“He knew he was hurt and gave me his fiancée’s number and told me to have it just in case,” Riddle, the 2014 Olympic ski halfpipe silver medalist for Canada, wrote in an email Wednesday. “He was getting loaded onto a helicopter and was a little panicked; as I was myself.”

Blunck said that, after a few minutes, he tried to tell those with him that he was OK, though he felt significant injuries. They forced him to load into a helicopter to be flown to a hospital.

Swiss doctors said he had a broken rib and kidney laceration. Blunck returned to the U.S., where he was diagnosed with more serious injuries and told by one doctor, “You are so lucky to be alive. Like, beyond lucky to be alive,” according to FIS.

“The doc said that typically it would be a six-month recovery for most people, but she understood who I am as a person and an athlete, and she understands athletes, and she’s pretty sure they’re going to have me back on snow in six weeks,” Blunck said.

He could return in time for significant contests in February — the first 2022 Olympic qualifier in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., and the world championships in the 2022 Olympic host nation China. Blunck finished seventh at the Olympics in 2014 and 2018.

“After having a crash as serious as the one I had, now I just want to ski for the sake of skiing,” he said. “I don’t want to worry about impressing the judges, I don’t want to focus on winning the contest. I just want to do the best that Aaron Blunck can do.”

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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