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air bag in ski suit saves racer from serious harm

VAL GARDENA, Italy — In less than a tenth of a second, safety in ski racing took a huge leap forward Saturday.

That was the time it took for a radical air bag system to inflate and prevent Olympic champion Matthias Mayer from serious injury during a nasty crash at the Val Gardena World Cup downhill.

The Austrian lost control on the Saslong course, spun around and flew down the hill backward in midair. Before he landed on his right side, the air bag vest under his race suit inflated and softened his landing.

It was the first time an air bag inflated during a World Cup race.

"A crash can never be something favorable," International Ski Federation (FIS) technical expert Gunter Hujara said. "(But) maybe we have seen here he was saved from a spine injury today."

After medical attention on the slope, Mayer was airlifted to a hospital in Bolzano. Mayer fractured a vertebra and likely will be sidelined for a month, the Austrian team said. He was to be transferred to Innsbruck, Austria, for more exams.

"It proved the air bag has an important place in speed skiing," Austrian winter sports federation director Hans Pum said.

Mayer initially had trouble breathing, race organizers said, but Hujara spoke to Mayer on the slope and said the breathing problem was not due to the air bag.

The air bag system has been in development by Italian manufacturer Dainese and the FIS for years, and a handful of athletes started wearing it during races only recently.

Women's downhill: Lara Gut of Switzerland narrowly beat countrywoman Fabienne Suter to win a World Cup race at Val d'Isere, France, and American Lindsey Vonn said she wasn't "feeling great" after she skied off the course. Vonn looked well-placed to take the lead when she went up on the inside of her left ski. She kept her balance and stayed upright as she glided on her right ski. Vonn, who has recovered from a career-threatening knee injury and two operations, didn't speak to reporters. She later posted on Twitter, "Not feeling great. Going to rest and hopefully I will be able to race tomorrow."


horses: Richies Sweetheart ($13.40) won the Lightning City Stakes, one of three $100,000 stakes held at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar. Favorite Ishaq ($3.40) captured the Inaugural, and Hidden Treat ($16.20) prevailed in the Sandpiper.

soccer: Guus Hiddink returned to Chelsea for a second spell as manager, hired until the end of the season with the task of turning round the struggling defending English Premier League champions after Jose Mourinho's firing last week. Chelsea responded to Mourinho's departure by beating Sunderland 3-1 at home. Captain John Terry used his program notes to deny that "player power" had forced Mourinho out. The team cited a "palpable discord" with players for the firing. Manchester United — owned by the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs — lost its second game in a row, 2-1 at home to Norwich. Surprise league leader Leicester beat host Everton 3-2, meaning it will be atop the standings on Christmas Day with 38 points. It becomes the first club to have been at the bottom of the standings on Dec. 25 in one season and on top the next Christmas Day.

Don Jensen, Times correspondent; Times wires

Sports in brief 12/19/15 [Last modified: Saturday, December 19, 2015 11:33pm]
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