Torn ACL knocks Hale out of Olympics |

Torn ACL knocks Hale out of Olympics

By Eddie Pells

The Associated Press

SAUZE d’OULX, Italy (AP) – The rough-and-tumble sport of snowboardcross claimed its first Olympic victim before the opening race was even run when Sierraville’s Jayson Hale tore up his knee during a practice session Tuesday.

Hale was running alone, not four-wide as is typical in competition, when he got too much air on a late jump and landed awkwardly.

He was taken to a medical center in Sestriere. Dr. Jim Sterling, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s chief medical officer, said Hale tore his anterior cruciate ligament and suffered significant bone bruising around the knee.

“He is comfortable and stable,” Sterling said.

Hale returned to the athletes’ village in Bardonecchia, where the snowboarding events are held. He is expected to decide in the next few days whether he wants to remain in Italy for the remainder of the games or go home.

He was not immediately available for comment.

His spot on the U.S. team is expected to be taken by Graham Watanabe, an alternate who traveled to Italy to serve as a wax technician for his friends on the team, but now will likely find himself racing in the Olympics.

The USOC and U.S. Ski and Snowboard were preparing to submit Watanabe’s name as an injury replacement. Barring any surprises, Watanabe will race for the United States on Thursday when snowboardcross makes its Olympic debut.

In the final rounds of snowboardcross, four riders race down the motocross-type course, taking big jumps and vying for the fastest line down the slope. The top two in each heat advance to the next round until a winner is decided.

“It’s definitely a little crazy,” American rider Jason Smith said last week. “You’re going down course as fast as you can with three other guys. That’s got to be a little crazy. But we’re all professionals, we’ve all been doing this a long time. We know the risks involved.”

There are also timed qualifying heats in which riders go alone. Much of training is about trying to find the fastest line down the mountain, which is what Hale was trying to do when he wrecked.

The 20-year-old tore up the same knee last March, shortly after finishing third in the 2005 World Championships.

Hale returned in September and had a pair of top-five finishes in World Cup events this season, squeezing onto the Olympic team at the last moment. He was ranked 13th in the world coming into the Olympics, behind American teammates Nate Holland, Seth Wescott and Smith.

Watanabe, meanwhile, didn’t even qualify for World Cup events until winning the U.S. Snowboardcross Championships in December. In three races since, his best finish was 11th.

He wanted to make the trip to Italy, however, to be with his friends and help them set up their boards for the racing Thursday. Now, it appears the 23-year-old from Sun Valley, Idaho, will have to set up his own.

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