Kaitlyn Farrington

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Snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington, forced to retire early, not staying grounded

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Kaitlyn Farrington lost her Olympic gold medal. Two weeks passed, and it still hadn’t turned up. She was ready to ransack her home.

“My parents wanted to kill me, because I went through a moment of saying, ‘I have no idea where it is, mom and dad,'” said Farrington, who grew up in Idaho and then moved to Utah. “And they’re like, really Kaitlyn?”

Time was running out.

Farrington was scheduled to fly to New York earlier this month for a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association fundraiser, where several other Olympians from the past 50 years would display their medals.

The day before her flight, Farrington sat on a bed and felt something weird. She lifted the mattress and found her Sochi gold.

Farrington lists her place on Airbnb due to frequent travels and apparently stuffed her medal there (and locked the room) during a recent leave.

“It hides in drawers or wherever. It’s around. It’s out and about,” Farrington joked after arriving in New York. “My medal’s a little dinged up because I’ve had a lot of fun with it.”

Farrington was one of the surprises of the Sochi Winter Games. She arrived in Russia as the only member of the four-woman U.S. halfpipe team without a major victory.

Then she beat an Olympic field that included the past three gold medalists — Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter and Torah Bright.

Less than a year later, Farrington emotionally announced her retirement at age 25 due to a degenerative spine condition. She learned of her congenital cervical stenosis after a fall 2014 crash that left her unable to feel anything for two minutes.

Farrington was fortunate she had never done permanent damage. If she had known about the condition earlier in life, she may never have become a snowboarder.

In retiring from halfpipe, Farrington made a deal with her longtime doctor, U.S. snowboard team physician Tom Hackett.

“I just have to keep my feet on the ground,” Farrington said in her retirement interview published Jan. 19, 2015. “I still want to be a professional snowboarder, I just have to figure out what that means.”

Farrington worked it out to continue strapping on her board the last 19 months. It’s not the same one she rode in Sochi, though. Farrington is occupying her time coaching, riding and filming, traveling the world as a back-country snowboarder.

“I definitely don’t think about the Olympics as much because that’s not who I am anymore,” said Farrington, before cutting off her words and offering a correction. “Or, right now, I feel like [if I was] a [halfpipe] rider, I’d be thinking about going into the next Olympics. My full pace has changed in the past three years, and now I am a back-country rider. I used to be a halfpipe rider.”

She’s not performing flips, twists or frontside airs, but she’s far from grounded. Farrington summited Alaska’s Denali, the highest peak in North America, in June.

She also trekked through Argentina and Chile during the South American winter, when she watched the Rio Olympics on TV and bawled during award ceremonies.

“Because I knew everything they were going through,” she said.

Farrington also has plans later this fall to work in Kazakhstan with a filmmaker who described himself as a splitboard mountaineer.

At some point in the last 19 months, Farrington said she re-fell in love with snowboarding, riding the way she first learned the sport. But then there are also these moments.

“I get a little jittery sometimes when I want to leave the ground,” said Farrington, who would risk paralysis with a fall, “but I always know better.”

When she was diagnosed two years ago, some doctors told her she could never snowboard again. Some today say they can’t believe she’s still snowboarding.

Hackett, who offered her that deal to snowboard without leaving her feet, is the one whose opinion matters most of all. Farrington sees him every six months for MRIs and has him on speed dial for more spontaneous communication.

“I’m like, so, can I go on this roller coaster?” Farrington will ask him. “He’s like, eh, not the best choice, Kaitlyn.”

Hackett urges Farrington to discuss a surgery that she said would lessen her risk should she be in any whiplash situation. The procedure would also be extensive enough to keep her from riding for at least one year.

Farrington avoids the conversation.

“It would really be the end of my snowboard career,” she said. “[The surgery] wouldn’t put me back in a halfpipe. [My back] feels fine. Why go under the knife if you don’t have to?”

MORE: Snowboarder on Time’s Most Influential Teens list

Kaitlyn Farrington retires from snowboarding

Kaitlyn Farrington
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Kaitlyn Farrington, the surprise Sochi Olympic halfpipe champion, is retiring less than a year after winning gold due to a congenital spine condition she learned of in the fall, according to ESPN.com.

Farrington, 25, has congenital cervical stenosis and was told by a doctor she can never snowboard again, according to the report.

“I thought I was too young to hear the word ‘retirement,'” Farrington told ESPN, adding she learned of the condition after an October snowboarding crash in Austria. “There’s so much I still want to do in the halfpipe. I thought I’d be pushing the sport for many more years and try to make the Olympic team in 2018. But the risk of snowboarding in a halfpipe or hitting jumps is too high. It’s been tough to accept, but I’m retiring from competitive snowboarding.”

Farrington won gold in Sochi over the previous three Olympic champions — Torah Bright, Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter.

The rider raised on an Idaho cattle ranch was considered questionable to make the U.S. Olympic team entering winter qualifying, but she beat two-time Olympians Gretchen Bleiler and Elena Hight to join Clark, Teter and World champion Arielle Gold on the four-woman squad.

At the Olympics, her second-run final score of 91.75 edged the Australian Bright by .25 for gold in the closest Olympic halfpipe competition ever.

In September, Farrington said she wanted to compete in slopestyle at the Dew Tour Mountain Championships in December, but she did not end up riding.

Farrington won Winter X Games silver in 2011 and bronze in 2014.

U.S. aerialists post best World Championships since 1999

Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports

Sochi 2014
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OlympicTalk takes a look back at the year in Olympic sports this week. Today, we review winter sports.

Alpine Skiing

The year started with Lindsey Vonn ending her rushed bid to come back from right knee surgery to defend her 2010 Olympic downhill title in Sochi. The Winter Games were suddenly without one of their leading women, but others surged in her absence.

Mikaela Shiffrin, a Coloradoan like Vonn, was billed to become the youngest Olympic slalom champion ever. She delivered under that pressure, one month shy of her 19th birthday, and went on to win a second straight World Cup season title in the event. Shiffrin blurted out her dream of winning an unprecedented five Alpine gold medals in 2018, a remark supported by President Barack Obama. She began the 2014-15 World Cup season experiencing growing pains and is in the midst of her longest victory and podium drought since she burst on the scene two years ago.

Slovenia’s Tina Maze, who had the greatest season in skiing history in 2012-13, failed to follow it up in the World Cup season. But she found the magic at the Olympics, winning two gold medals. She’s dominating the World Cup tour again this season, which may be her last.

U.S. men’s stalwarts Ted Ligety and Bode Miller came through in Sochi, too. Ligety won his second Olympic gold medal but first in his signature event, the giant slalom. Miller shared a bronze in the super-G, running his U.S. Olympic skiing record tally to six career medals and making him, at 36, the oldest medalist in Olympic Alpine skiing history.

Both Ligety and Miller were beset by injuries early this season. The hottest U.S. skier is once again Vonn, who has two victories in four races this month since returning from a second knee surgery.

Video: Lindsey Vonn falls, is OK, one day after winning a cow

Figure Skating

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Meryl Davis and Charlie White upgraded their silver medal from 2010. (Getty Images)

No Winter Olympic sport sees more drama than figure skating, and it began well before the Olympics in 2014. Ashley Wagner, the most accomplished U.S. women’s skater since the 2010 Olympics, finished fourth at the U.S. Championships in January and was selected for the three-woman Olympic team over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu.

Wagner stayed in the spotlight in the debut of the Olympic team competition, when she disagreed with the low scores given to her by judges, her facial expression inspiring a meme. The U.S. took bronze.

Russia prevailed in the team event, setting off a rush of 33 total medals and 13 golds across all sports, leading both medal tallies. The Russians bounced back from 2010, when they won 13 medals with three golds.

The pairs team of Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov prevailed as predicted, but what was unexpected was the performance of Adelina Sotnikova. The 17-year-old controversially outpointed South Korean Yuna Kim, in Kim’s farewell, to become the first women’s Olympic champion with zero prior World Championships medals.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White became the first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions, capping a nearly two-year undefeated run in what may have been their final competition.

Yuzuru Hanyu became Japan’s first men’s Olympic champion, emerging, with two falls, from a group of forgettable free skates. Four-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko withdrew before the short program, citing a back injury, but hasn’t ruled out a run to 2018.

Video: Ashley Wagner denies Russian sweep at Grand Prix Final

Freestyle Skiing

In moguls, 2010 Olympic champions Hannah Kearney and Alexandre Bilodeau were both aiming to become the first freestyle skier to win multiple Olympic gold medals.

Kearney appeared a better shot going into Sochi, but she bobbled in the final and accepted a bronze medal with tears. Bilodeau, who in 2010 became the first Canadian to win gold on home soil, upset countryman Mikael Kingsbury two nights later to become the first back-to-back Olympic champion freestyle skier. He then retired to become an accountant.

Belarusians swept the aerials golds, and France swept the women’s ski cross podium, but the U.S. dominated in the new events of ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle, winning half of the 12 available medals.

Maddie Bowman and David Wise made the best of a criticized Sochi halfpipe to win golds. Devin Logan added slopestyle silver.

Men’s slopestyle provided the performance of the Games for the U.S. Olympic team. Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper made it an American medal sweep for the third time in any event in Winter Olympic history. Kenworthy brought home five stray puppies with his silver medal. Christensen basked in the glow of his gold in Sarajevo, where he was bitten by a dog and, fearing he might have rabies, required more than 30 shots.

Thanks in large part to freestyle skiers, the U.S. secured second place in the overall medal standings. Its 28 medals marked its highest total at a non-North American Winter Games.

Joss Christensen becomes ‘mountain man’ since Sochi

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Ole Einar Bjoerndalen didn’t retire after Sochi. He plans to compete through 2016. (Getty Images)

Nordic Skiing

The U.S. won zero medals across biathlon, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping.

In biathlon, Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen won two gold medals at age 40 to give him 13 for his career, the most of any Winter Olympian ever.

Belarus’ Darya Domracheva one-upped Bjoerndalen with three gold medals, all in individual events, something no other athlete did in Sochi.

In cross-country skiing, Norway’s biggest star, the enigmatic Petter Northug, left Sochi with zero medals. As did the U.S.’ hope to win its first cross-country medal in 38 years, Kikkan Randall.

The U.S. Nordic combined team, which won its first Olympic medals in 2010, four of them, was also shut out. All was not lost. Todd Lodwick, the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony, became the first American to compete in six Winter Olympics. In November, Bill Demong ran the New York City Marathon in 2 hours, 33 minutes.

The indelible U.S. memory came in ski jumping, where 2013 World champion Sarah Hendrickson became the first woman to jump in Olympic competition. Women’s ski jumpers had fought for more than a decade to join men in the Olympics. Hendrickson, 20, had fought through five months of rehab after tearing her ACL, MCL and meniscus in a crash just to make the Olympic team.

Sliding Sports

Let’s start with skeleton. Noelle Pikus-Pace won silver in Sochi, but it felt like gold after a career filled with emotional marks — her leg shattered by a bobsled in 2005, having her first child, Lacee, in 2008, missing an Olympic medal in 2010 by one tenth of a second, retirement, her second child, Traycen, in 2011, a miscarriage in 2012 and unretirement.

In Sochi, Pikus-Pace memorably leaped over a wall after finishing her athletic career and embraced her family. She wrote a book shortly thereafter — “Focused” — and had another miscarriage.

Pikus-Pace let the tears flow at the Sanki Sliding Center. Her teammate, John Daly, fought them back the next night. Daly’s medal hopes evaporated with a slip at the start of his final run. His sled came out of a groove in the ice, and he plummeted to 15th. American Matthew Antoine won bronze instead. Daly, like Pikus-Pace, retired after the Olympics.

Germany swept the luge golds, amid an otherwise disappointing Olympics for the winter powerhouse nation. Erin Hamlin bagged bronze, the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medal.

In bobsled, Steven Holcomb added two bronze medals to his four-man gold from 2010 and began the following season with a new crew of push athletes. Canada’s Kaillie Humphries came back to beat U.S. training partner Elana Meyers Taylor for women’s gold. This season, Humphries and Meyers Taylor made history as the first women to drive four-man sleds in international competition.

Also in bobsled, Lauryn Williams and Lolo Jones became the ninth and 10th Americans to compete in both a Summer and Winter Games. Williams won silver pushing for Meyers Taylor, becoming the fifth athlete to win Summer and Winter medals. Williams all but retired but returned to the U.S. Bobsled team for part-time duty this year. Jones, still chasing that elusive medal, is focused on making her third Summer Olympic team in the 100m hurdles in 2016.

Video: Noelle Pikus-Pace gives inspiring Ted Talk

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Shaun White had a forgettable Olympics and hasn’t competed since. (Getty Images)

Snowboarding

Shaun White, the only Sochi Olympian with more than one million Twitter followers, came to Russia hoping to win two gold medals.

He left with no medals, pulling out of slopestyle the day before the competition and uncharacteristically erring in halfpipe, taking fourth behind new king Iouri Podladtchikov, the Russian-born Swiss.

White, who also plays guitar in a band, insists he’s looking toward a fourth Olympics in 2018, but he has not competed since Sochi.

Younger U.S. stars emerged, including the first slopestyle gold medalists Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson, whose infectious personalities set the tone on the first weekend of the Olympics.

Kaitlyn Farrington, a doubt to make the U.S. Olympic team, upset Kelly Clark and Torah Bright in the women’s halfpipe. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring snowboarder of 2014 was too young for the Sochi Olympics. Chloe Kim, born in 2000, sandwiched between Clark and Farrington at the Winter X Games.

In snowboard cross, two-time Olympic champion Seth Wescott failed to make the U.S. Olympic team, ceding the spotlight to bronze medalist Alex Deibold. Lindsey Jacobellis, who gave up a gold medal due to a fall on a celebratory move in 2006, was eliminated in the semifinals for a second straight Olympics.

Vic Wild became the only U.S.-born athlete to win multiple gold medals in Sochi. He did so in Alpine snowboarding representing the host nation, having married a Russian snowboarder (who won a bronze in parallel giant slalom).

Speed Skating

Dutch dominance enveloped the Adler Arena. The Netherlands won 23 of a possible 32 long-track speed skating medals in one of the greatest single-sport performances by one nation in Olympic history.

Ireen Wuest stood out the most, winning five medals, the most of any athlete at the Games. She crushed the field at the World Allround Championships a month later and earned global awards by year’s end.

In extreme contrast, the U.S. suffered, winning zero long track medals for the first time since 1984. Was it the scrutinized skin suits introduced in Sochi? Pre-Olympic training methods? A new skate-sharpening system? There was no consensus.

Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe bounced back to start the 2014-15 World Cup season, while two-time Olympic champion Shani Davis is more slowly working his way back from a deep disappointment.

Another traditional power flopped in short track. The South Korean men won zero medals, while South Korean-born Viktor Ahn totaled four, including three golds, for his new nation — Russia.

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, Ireen Wuest lead Olympic award winners

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Canada went 50 years between men’s hockey golds from 1952 to 2002. Now, they’ve won three of the last four titles. (Getty Images)

Team Sports

Canada swept the four team sports titles in Sochi. The men’s and women’s curling and hockey teams combined to go 27-2.

The women provided the most excitement. Jennifer Jones skipped the first undefeated women’s rink in Olympic history. Marie-Philip Poulin broke the U.S. women’s hockey team’s hearts for a second straight Olympics, tying the gold-medal game with 55 seconds left and winning it in overtime.

The men’s hockey tournament will best be remembered for T.J. Oshie‘s shootout heroics in a U.S. group-stage win over Russia. Neither nation won a medal, though.

The climax of the Sochi Paralympics was the U.S.-Russia sled hockey final. The Americans won 1-0 on a goal from Josh Sweeney, a bilateral amputee injured by an improvised explosive device in October 2009 while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan.

Olympic Year in Review: Summer Sports