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

Oleksandr Abramenko
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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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American Quinn Dehlinger wins first aerials World Cup

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Quinn Dehlinger became the first American man to win a World Cup aerials event in nearly three years, doing so in his first time on any step of a World Cup podium in Le Relais, Canada, on Saturday.

Dehlinger, a 20-year-old slopestyle convert from Cincinnati, was the highest-ranked American man last season to not make the Olympic team with a previous career-best World Cup finish of eighth.

On Saturday, he threw a double full-full-full in the super final to beat a field that included teammate Chris Lillis, the 2021 World silver medalist, and Swiss Noe Roth, the 2019 World bronze medalist.

“It honestly feels unbelievable, it’s still settling in,” Dehlinger said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “It is so rewarding to have all the hard work and training finally pay off, and it paid off big. I was in the mindset of doing what I need to do first, thinking about the beginning of the jump first and the rest will come.”

Lillis was the last American man to win an aerials World Cup in February 2020.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top winter sports athlete who took gold and silver at the last two Olympics, sat out due to a minor knee ligament injury, according to Ukrainian media quoting a national team coach. Abramenko and the Ukrainian aerials team spent part of January training in Park City, Utah.

Four-time Olympian Ashley Caldwell took second in the women’s event for her first podium in two years. Caldwell has 17 career individual World Cup podiums, second among American women behind 1998 Olympic champion Nikki Stone‘s 32.

After another competition in Le Relais on Sunday, the aerials World Cup moves to Park City the first weekend of February (along with moguls) with coverage on Peacock and NBC Sports.

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Colby Stevenson, his life saved in 2016, leads first U.S. Olympic freestyle skiing qualifiers

Team USA Portrait Shoot Ahead of Beijing 2022
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The first set of freestyle skiers to meet U.S. Winter Olympic team qualifying criteria includes one of the incredible comeback stories in sports today.

Colby Stevenson, left fighting for his life five years ago after a skull-shattering car crash, became the first American slopestyle skier to meet Olympic qualifying criteria via his No. 2 world ranking in a list published Tuesday.

Also meeting Olympic qualifying criteria this week via world rankings: fellow slopestyle skier Mac Forehand, aerials skiers Megan Nick, Winter Vinecki (an all-continents marathoner set to become the first Winter Olympian named “Winter”), Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld and moguls skiers Jaelin Kauf and Hannah Soar.

LIST: Team USA athletes qualified for 2022 Winter Olympics

Stevenson earned his place with accolades including a 2020 X Games Aspen title and 2021 World Championships silver medal.

But none of that seemed possible after what happened on Mother’s Day 2016.

Stevenson fell asleep at the wheel while driving a friend’s truck, it rolled over several times, the roof collapsed, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury. Stevenson shattered his skull in 30 places, his neck was “crushed like an accordion,” along with a broken eye socket and ribs. He was placed in a medically-induced coma for three days.

“I’m in the one percent of people that have this type of skull fracture and no brain damage,” Stevenson said in a My New Favorite Olympian podcast episode to be published just before the Olympics start in February. “My brain swelled eight millimeters, and at nine millimeters is when brain damage starts.”

He spent two weeks in a hospital, then another month bedridden at home, living “painkiller to painkiller” every four hours. His mom fed him a side of oatmeal with the 4 a.m. dose. Memory loss and decision-making problems persisted. He said earlier this year that he’s still not as sharp as he once was and feels lingering neck pain.

“It was not looking good for me, but I never once thought in my head that there was another option for my life,” than skiing, he said. “I didn’t have a back-up plan other than to be a professional skier.”

Five months after the crash, Stevenson returned to training in a preseason camp in New Zealand. He did his favorite trick on the first day, a double cork 1080 grabbing the tails of his skis.

“When I landed that, I knew I was going to come back,” he said.

Stevenson won in his first World Cup event post-crash, but his 2018 Olympic dreams were dashed by a torn rotator cuff in late 2017.

Stevenson, who grew up in the 2002 Olympic skiing venue of Park City, Utah, came back to win the biggest annual prize in the sport — the X Games — in 2020. Then in a 15-day stretch last March, he all but secured a 2022 Olympic berth by placing second at the world championships and winning a pair of World Cups.

Any doubt was erased this week. U.S. Ski and Snowboard criteria states that its top two freestyle skiers per gender in a number of disciplines in world rankings as of Dec. 22, provided they are top six overall, will be nominated to the Olympic team.

The International Ski Federation updates its rankings in most disciplines every two weeks or so — this week and then again the first week of January. Therefore, the list published earlier this week will still be in place on Dec. 22 for aerials, moguls and slopestyle.

Slopestyle skiers can also compete in the new Olympic event of ski big air.

U.S. Ski and Snowboard will not name its full teams until next month. Athletes must be approved by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

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