Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 | 8:50 p.m.
KEARNS, Utah — Olympic hopeful Theresa Cliff-Ryan was injured Monday when she landed on her head after being struck on the sidelines by a crashing speedskater, likely ending her quest to make the team for Sochi.
Cliff-Ryan sustained a concussion and had several teeth knocked out, according to her coach, Matt Kooreman, who added that she was lucky the injuries weren't more serious.
"No long-term debilitating brain or neck injuries — which was initially feared," he wrote in a text message to the Associated Press.
The 35-year-old Cliff-Ryan had her back to the ice during an off-day practice session at the Utah Olympic Oval, having completed her workout. Suddenly, Kevin Geminder lost his balance on the front straightaway while going full speed. He slid off the track and right into Cliff-Ryan, flipping her into the air. She landed face-first on the concrete surface, sending a collective gasp through the arena before horrified coaches and athletes raced to her side. Trainers rushed to the track within seconds and put her in a neck brace.
Cliff-Ryan was placed on a backboard and taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she was treated and released. She was conscious and talking to paramedics as she was carried across the ice on a stretcher.
Kooreman said Cliff-Ryan was taken to an oral surgeon to have her teeth repaired and would be re-evaluated again on Tuesday for her concussion and whiplash symptoms. But it seemed unlikely she would be able to compete in the final two events of the trials, the 1,500 and 5,000 meters.
"It's really sad," the coach said. "Thought she had a great shot at winning the 5,000."
Geminder just missed two-time Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis, who was sitting on a bench getting ready to go on the ice. Davis ran away as the crashing skater slid by, clearly shaken by the close call.
"I'm lucky that I was paying attention," said Davis, who has already made the U.S. team for Sochi but still has to qualify in one of his best events, the 1,500. "I heard it. I looked to where I saw the sound. I saw him sliding toward her. I just got out of the way."
Geminder ripped his suit but narrowly avoided hitting his unprotected head on a metal bench. He was checked by the coaches and said he was OK before skating away. He watched from across the ice as paramedics tended to Cliff-Ryan and apparently left the arena a short time afterward.
Tucker Fredricks, who has already made his third Olympic team, was coming around a turn when Geminder crashed and saw Cliff-Ryan's skates in the air.
"It happens occasionally but not very often," Fredricks said. "It's been a couple of years since I've seen something like that. It's scary."
A native of Cedar Springs, Mich., who now lives in Philadelphia, Cliff-Ryan had an outside shot at making the team in the 1,500, to be held Tuesday. Her better chance was the 5,000 on Wednesday, the final day of the trials in suburban Salt Lake City.
Cliff-Ryan just missed qualifying for the U.S. team in the 3,000 last Friday. She finished third in a personal-best time, but only the top two made the team.
Jilleanne Rookard, who skated at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and beat out Cliff-Ryan for a spot in the 3,000, was standing near the skater just seconds earlier but decided to take another lap around the oval. Rookard was in the first turn when the crash happened.
"The coaches already always preach to us to pay attention, to make sure you're facing the direction that the skaters are coming from," she said. "It's just one of those freaky things that happen sometimes."
Cliff-Ryan is a longtime inline skater who switched to cycling in an attempt to make the Summer Olympics. She almost qualified for the U.S. team in both 2008 and 2012 and then went back to skating — on blades instead of wheels — in a last-ditch attempt to make the Winter Games. After just 6 1/2 months on ice, she nearly pulled it off.
"It's disappointing," Cliff-Ryan said after the 3,000. "But I'm pretty proud of what I've done."
Geminder finished 28th in the 1,000 on Sunday.