Mayer plans 2016-17 return after much-debated downhill crash
INNSBRUCK, Austria (AP) — Olympic champion Matthias Mayer was released from the hospital Wednesday, 11 days after breaking two vertebrae while wearing a protective air bag in a much-debated World Cup downhill crash.
“I am basically doing very well,” the Austrian skier said at a news conference, adding he expected to get back on skis in August to prepare for the 2016-17 season.
One of his surgeons, Klaus Galiano, said he expected Mayer to “fully recover” with his back regaining its usual strength, enabling a return to World Cup racing.
During the Dec. 19 downhill in Val Gardena, Mayer lost control and spun around, flying down the hill backward before landing hard on his right side. He was airlifted to a local hospital and underwent surgery the next day in Austria.
Galiano said Mayer broke his sixth and seventh vertebrae, and a defective position of the latter made immediate surgery necessary.
It was the first time a safety air bag was inflated during a race, prompting a debate among skiers whether the new system caused the serious injury or prevented Mayer from getting hurt even worse.
“I have collected precise feedback on the crash,” Mayer said. “You have to say, no system can protect you at such a very nasty crash. It was flat, even slightly uphill terrain. You can’t blame the air bag for (my injury). I don’t feel like I was a test pilot for a new system.”
The air bag inflates only in the chest, side and shoulder areas. The system is activated using a complicated algorithm that determines when racers can no longer regain control, leading to inflation in less than a tenth of a second.
Two days after the crash, an expert meeting to discuss the matter took place between Mayer’s surgeons, the Austrian ski federation, independent bio mechanics, and the air bag manufacturer, Italian company Dainese.
According to one the surgeons, Michael Gabl, the sensors in the safety system provided valuable data which made a detailed reconstruction of the crash possible.
“We can rule out any causation between the fractures and the air bag,” Gabl said. “It’s possible the system has limited injury to the chest.”
Asked whether he planned to use the system again, Mayer said, “I think I will wear the air bag again. There is no reason why I shouldn’t.”
Mayer said he will rest at home for the upcoming weeks.
“I will walk around a bit, nothing else goes yet. The fractures will only heal when I rest,” he said. “When the others have the end of the season, I hope to have the metal in my back removed and be able to start training again.”
The winner of three World Cup races said Aksel Lund Svindal’s recovery from serious injuries will motivate him for his own comeback. The two-time overall champion from Norway missed the 2007-08 and 2014-15 campaigns but had successful comebacks.
“Aksel has had to skip a whole season twice and he came back very strong each time,” Mayer said.