French skier Kevin Rolland faced fear at Olympics 3 years after crash

After injuries, Olympic athletes discuss mental health awareness.

February 22, 2022, 5:04 AM

Kevin Rolland, a French halfpipe star, found out how dangerous and unforgiving a discipline freestyle skiing can be after a serious fall in April 2019.

The freestyle-skiing champion and five-time X Games gold medalist had been training to break the world record of the highest jump, around 36 feet. After a fall, he suffered head trauma, had multiple contusions to his liver, kidneys and lungs, and fractured his ribs and pelvis, he said.

"The doctor was telling me that it might be over, I’m not going to be a skier anymore, I have to think about something else now," Rolland told ABC News last week in Beijing.

Defying predictions, 32-year-old Rolland took part in his third Olympic Games this year, making it to the halfpipe finals on Friday and finishing sixth.

PHOTO: Kevin Rolland of Team France reacts after his second run during the Men's freestyle skiing halfpipe final at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Feb. 19, 2022.
Kevin Rolland of Team France reacts after his second run during the Men's freestyle skiing halfpipe final at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Feb. 19, 2022.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Rolland's now one of a few Olympic athletes who are talking openly about the need for mental health awareness, saying it's OK for daredevil athletes to speak out about their struggles with fear.

In a documentary, "Résilience," Rolland told the story of the world record attempt that almost cost him his life in April 2019 and the long rehabilitation that ensued.

"I was scared," he said in the film. "The biggest challenge was to ski again for pleasure and forget the fear."

PHOTO: Kevin Rolland of Team France soars above the halfpipe in the men's freeski at the 2022 Beijing Olympics on Feb. 19, 2022
Kevin Rolland of Team France soars above the halfpipe in the men's freeski at the 2022 Beijing Olympics on Feb. 19, 2022
Hannah Mckay/Reuters

Team USA's downhill skier Jacqueline Wiles was also seeking redemption in Beijing. A serious leg injury in a crash at a World Cup race in 2018 cost her her Olympic dreams for the PyeongChang 2018 Games. Wiles afterward was told by a doctor that she may have been struggling to focus because of PTSD, she said.

Athletes being shamed for their fears or failures has long been the norm and it continues to be an issue, she said. Four years after recovering from her debilitating fall and several surgeries later, Jacqueline Wiles told ABC News she believes in the importance of sport psychologists and mental health support for athletes.

"Now when I am in the start gate, I have the moment of fear ... I don't try to fight it now, I try to accept it," she told ABC News.

PHOTO: U.S. skier Jacqueline Wiles competing in the women's downhill event in Beijing, Feb. 15, 2022.
U.S. skier Jacqueline Wiles competing in the women's downhill event in Beijing, Feb. 15, 2022.
Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Wiles's teammate, Mikaela Schiffrin, who came up short at these Games, shared on social media some of the negative messages she received after failing to finish her third event. Star U.S. gymnast Simone Biles came out in support of Shiffrin, saying, "I know this all too well, I’m sorry you’re experiencing this," referencing to the criticism aimed at her during the Tokyo Summer Games in 2020.

Now a proud dad of two, Rolland said he owes his comeback to his family. Rolland’s girlfriend gave birth while he was still recovering from his 2019 call in the hospital.

PHOTO: Kevin Rolland of Team France performs a trick on Feb. 14, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Kevin Rolland of Team France performs a trick on Feb. 14, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"I pretty much wake up [from the coma] as a dad, which was really weird," Rolland told ABC News. "I was in the hospital, unsure I’d be able to get back to normal, but at the same time I had a kid and I was so happy, so happy to be alive and a dad."

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