Todd Sand, Olympic skater, coach, in ICU after heart attack; family grateful for support

Todd Sand

Todd Sand, a retired U.S. Olympic pairs’ figure skater and current coach, is “fighting for his life” in an intensive care unit in Canada after complications from a heart attack last Thursday, a coaching colleague said.

Sand, 59, had a heart attack while in Calgary to coach at the world junior championships and was hospitalized.

Christine Fowler-Binder, who coaches pairs’ figure skaters with Sand and Sand’s wife, Jenni Meno, published a fundraiser on Wednesday “for Todd and his family to help support them with the enormous expenses associated with his medical care and recovery.”

Fowler-Binder confirmed Thursday afternoon that Sand is still in the ICU recovering from the heart attack. The public support for Sand has been overwhelming — more than $100,000 from more than 800 donors as of Thursday afternoon. The fundraiser goal is $500,000 for the out-of-country medical costs.

“It is amazing, and [Meno] appreciates everyone’s support,” Fowler-Binder said.

One of the teams that Meno and Sand coach, Sophia Baram and Daniel Tioumentsev, won the world junior pairs’ title last Thursday night after Sand had a heart attack that morning.

“We skated for Todd and for everyone that has helped us through the season,” Tioumentsev said after winning, according to the International Skating Union (ISU). “It was very hard, and we tried to remember what Todd told us – to stay in the moment.”

Baram said through tears, “We are sending a lot of prayers, and today we skated for him and for everyone who supported us. We love you Todd,” according to the ISU.

Meno and Sand also coach reigning senior U.S. and world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier.

“The love for Todd is endless,” Knierim posted on social media on Wednesday. “His kindness and light shine brighter than any other. Due to the severity of Todd’s condition we are asking everyone to come together to help Todd, Jenni, and the boys. We will continue to do whatever it takes to support them as they are family.”

Frazier called Sand “everything a student and friend could ask for.”

“As most of you know and are aware our beloved coach and friend Todd Sand has suffered a very serious heart attack that has put his life in jeopardy,” Frazier posted on social media. “We sincerely ask for any help that can be given with donations. Although no amount of money could equal the amount of love we all have for this man we hope that we can unite together to help Todd and his family anyway possible. Every little bit helps in such a huge way and would be extremely grateful for any contributions made for Todd. This man has touched so many lives on and off the ice and more importantly is the most loving person that anyone could have in their life.”

Sand competed at the Olympics in 1992 with Natasha Kuchiki and in 1994 and 1998 with Meno, whom he married in 1995, with a best finish of fifth.

He also won four U.S. titles and four world championships medals, the latter the most by a U.S. pairs’ figure skater over the last 70 years.

Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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