BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — Torin Yater-Wallace broke two ribs. Simon Dumont of Bethel suffered a concussion.
Yes, it could have been much worse. But still, the injuries to two top Americans in the year’s first Olympic qualifier serve as a stark reminder of the dangers that exist on the halfpipe.
Yater-Wallace broke his ribs during a practice run for the Dew Tour ski halfpipe finals Saturday. He posted pictures of himself on Twitter and Instagram lying in a hospital bed. On Sunday morning came an even more telling tweet: “I hate the word Sochi” – as good an indicator as any that his road to the Olympics stalled out in Breckenridge.
Shortly after Yater-Wallace’s injury, Dumont walked off the course after losing a ski and slamming his back on the icy halfpipe. He was diagnosed with a concussion, which comes with an automatic 24-hour waiting period before an athlete can get back out onto the mountain. He’s expected to return for next week’s contest at Copper Mountain in Colorado.
Kyle Smaine, who finished sixth in the contest, said Dumont wrecked right before the competition began – a jolt that was hard to set aside before heading into the halfpipe himself. But like most everyone in these sports, he knows what he signed up for.
“I think it’s as safe as it can be, but it’s definitely not a safe sport,” Smaine said. “Football players get hurt; basketball players get hurt. We do what we can to mitigate it, but it’s never going to go away.”
Yater-Wallace and Dumont were hurt in the same sport that took the life of Sarah Burke, the four-time Winter X Games champion who pushed hard to have halfpipe skiing included in the Olympics. Burke hit her head trying a routine trick during a training run in January 2012. After she died, friends and coaches agreed that she had taken all the right precautions.
Ski halfpipe, ski slopestyle and snowboard slopestyle will be first-time Olympic events in February. Four more qualifying events remain before Olympic rosters are announced in late January. Qualification standings are determined by the best two results for each athlete, and up to four U.S. athletes can be selected in each event.
Also injured Saturday, however slightly, was two-time Olympic snowboard gold medalist Shaun White, who fell and tweaked his ankle while trying his signature trick, a double-flip above the halfpipe with 31/2 twists. White was the top qualifier for Saturday’s finals but didn’t compete in the finals because of his injury.
Nearly four years ago at the Winter X Games, he was attempting that same trick in a warm-up run when he banged his face on the halfpipe. White simply dusted himself off, went back to the top and went through the routine flawlessly to take the title.
“There’s inherent risk in everything,” said Rick Bahr, the medical director for the Dew Tour. “But these guys, it’s calculated. They train well, practice well for it. They know what they’re doing. They don’t just throw themselves off of something without knowing.”
David Wise ended up winning Saturday’s ski halfpipe contest – his path to victory cleared considerably by the injuries to Yater-Wallace and Dumont, who have 10 Winter X Games medals between them and were considered near shoo-ins to make the U.S. Olympic team.
“That’s the nature of our sport,” Wise said. “Sometimes you’re trying to progress and you go down. But we do the best we can.
“Especially as athletes, we’re trying to minimize risks the best we can. We’re not just out there punching it, sending it, doing tricks we don’t know how to do. We’re taking baby steps and being calculated about everything.”