Top 10: Near-death experiences

By Paul Lewis, Andrew Alderson

Hoani Macdonald’s brush with death got Andrew Alderson and Paul Lewis pondering other near-death experiences in sport.

Salim Sdiri was competing in the long jump when he was stabbed by a rogue javelin. Photo / Supplied
Salim Sdiri was competing in the long jump when he was stabbed by a rogue javelin. Photo / Supplied

1 Boban Jankovic, 1993

This is tragic testimony to the need to accept a referee's decision. Boban Jankovic was protesting at a referee's call when he slammed his head hard against the goalpost in a Greek basketball league play-off.

He had just scored a basket which was wiped out when the referee fouled him-putting him out of the game. Jankovic protested with his headbang on the concrete goalpost and, shocking spectators, slumped to the floor.

He had damaged his spinal cord, causing paralysis and Jankovic was never able to walk again.

In the end, it was a fatal accident - as he put on weight and died in 2006 of heart failure.

-Paul Lewis

2 Ewen Chatfield, 1975

Chatfield's test debut against England came to a sickening end when he gloved a ball from pace bowler Peter Lever into his left temple. His heart stopped, he fell to the ground unconscious and swallowed his tongue.

English physiotherapist Bernard Thomas and a local ambulanceman had to clear his airway via mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and give him a heart massage. Chatfield regained consciousness within an hour but sustained a hairline skull fracture.

The incident triggered further debate regarding bouncers. British sports minister Dennis Howell suggested short-pitched bowling should be included in health and safety legislation. While much of the talk was rhetoric, it sped up the introduction of helmets.

Chatfield waited two years to be capped in the second of his 43 tests.

-Andrew Alderson

3 Rob Waddell, 2008

The Sydney Olympic gold medallist suffered genuine heartbreak in the final trial against defending world champion Mahe Drysdale to determine New Zealand's single sculler at the Beijing Games.

In the country's biggest pre-Olympic story, it was 1-1 going into the decider on Lake Karapiro. Spectators flocked to witness who would earn the coveted oars.

On first sight, Drysdale produced a superhuman performance, winning by 12 lengths.

However, Waddell said 300m into the race, his heart went from beating normally to pounding at over 200 beats a minute which felt like "rowing in mud".

He had suffered a recurrence of atrial fibrillation - the condition which caused him to move into a single sculls boat after 1995 to avoid letting down future crewmates.

Medication sorted out the problem and Waddell moved into the double sculls with Nathan Cohen. They won their pre- Olympic races but finished fourth at the Games.

-Andrew Alderson

4 Dave Dravecky, 1989

The real threat to this outstanding pitcher for the San Francisco Giants was cancer, after a tumour was discovered on his arm. After removal of the tumour and other treatment, Dravecky returned to the mound, pitching a win in what seemed like an uplifting comeback story.

However, in his second game a few days later, his humerus bone snapped horrifically as he threw a pitch. That was the end of his career and, two years later, his arm deteriorated to such an extent that it was amputated, along with his left shoulder.

However, Dravecky, now 56, built a new life as a motivational speaker and wrote two books about his battles with cancer and his comeback attempt.

-Paul Lewis

5 Bert Oldfield, 1933

The Australian wicketkeeper had his skull fractured during the third test of the Bodyline series in Adelaide, but not from a ball designed to elicit a catch via England captain Douglas Jardine's 'fast leg' theory. Instead Harold Larwood bowled a short of a length delivery which Oldfield attempted to hook.

The ball connected with his cranium off the top edge. Oldfield admitted it was his fault.

The costs of insurance cover for players doubled as a result of that and other injuries suffered during the infamous series.

The incident occurred in the same match as Australian captain Bill Woodfull taking a ball under the heart.

Woodfull later delivered one of cricket's legendary quotes to England manager Pelham Warner: "There are two teams out there, one is playing cricket."

-Andrew Alderson

6 Leon White aka Big Van Vader, 1990

Professional wrestling disbelievers pause for a moment.

In a bout between BVV and Stan Hansen (close friends outside the ring) in Japan, the short-sighted Hansen broke BVV's nose pre-match with his trademark gimmick - a bull rope.

As the match unfolded, an exchange of pseudo punches saw Hansen accidentally poke BVV's left eyeball out of its socket with his thumb.

BVV took off his mask, pushed the eye back in and finished the match as planned. Four reconstructive surgeries were required as a result.

Vader also had double knee replacement surgery five years ago and the wounds became infected. It caused him to pass out on a plane to Japan.

A World Wrestling Entertainment video revealed he was in a coma for 33 days and lost about 50kg.

-Andrew Alderson

7 Serena Williams, 2012

At first, when an emotional Serena Williams celebrated her Wimbledon victory over Agnieszka Radwanska, most thought it was just the happy release of stress following her fifth Wimbledon title and 14th Grand Slam title. It turned out Williams was reacting to the previously unrevealed near-death experience she had when she stepped on some glass in Munich two years previously.

The injury itself was not life-threatening but the blood clot that developed and lodged in her lung was - and kept her out of tennis for a year.

She later said: "I almost didn't make it when I was in that hospital but here I am again and it's so worth it. I never dreamed of being here when I was so down but I never gave up."

-Paul Lewis

8 Fabrice Muamba, 2012

Probably the most publicised and recognised brush with death in recent sporting times, players wept after Muamba toppled over during a game between Bolton and Tottenham in March.

The match was abandoned after Muamba appeared to be dead-and it was later confirmed his heart had stopped for an astounding 78 minutes.

Somehow, using defibrillator machines at the ground and in hospital, doctors got his heart beating again and an apparently unscathed Muamba was photographed sitting up in bed and smiling.

He retired from football in August, turned down an invitation to star in Come Dancing On Ice and last week married his fiancee, Shauna Magunda, at Peckforton Castle in Cheshire.

-Paul Lewis

9 Salim Sdiri, 2007

The French long jumper was busy completing his event at a Golden League meet in Rome. Nek minnit... he had a spear hanging out of his side.

Finnish javelin thrower Tero Pitkamaki let one go which tracked way off course, eventually lodging 10cm inside Sdiri's internal organs.

The footage shows stunned rivals with mouths agape and the Finnish commentary team's observations of "phoar" and "aye ya yi" need little translation.

Initially Sdiri thought he had escaped relatively unharmed.

Later doctors informed him the javelin had torn the top of his right kidney and left a hole in his liver.

The following year, he returned to competition and has since competed for France at two Olympics.

-Andrew Alderson

10 Clint Malarchuk, 1989

Possibly the most gruesome and bloody sports injury of all time, Malarchuk was in goal for ice hockey's Buffalo Sabers in a game against the St Louis Blues.

In a freak accident after he crashed into another player, Malarchuk's throat was slashed by the other player's skate, cutting his jugular vein. In an instant, the ice was covered with blood.

Players vomited, spectators screamed and several fainted at the horrific scene.

Malarchuk was saved by quick-thinking trainer and Vietnam veteran Jim Pizzutelli, who reached into Malarchuk's neck and pinched the blood vessel shut.

It was later estimated that had the wound been 3mm higher, Malarchuk would have bled to death before Pizzutelli could act. It took 300 stitches to close the wound although, incredibly, Malarchuk moved off the ice as he was bleeding out."

All I wanted to do was get off the ice", said Malarchuk.

"My mother was watching the game on TV and I didn't want her to see me die." He had someone call and tell her he loved her. Then he asked for a priest.

Malarchuk later struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder and alcoholism and, in 2008, he was rushed to hospital with a bullet in his head after his wife found him slumped over his rabbit rifle which had discharged.

Both husband and wife strenuously denied it was a suicide attempt but a sheriff's investigation concluded that the shooting was "accidental under suspicious circumstances" and no further action was taken.

Malarchuk, now 51, is goal-tending coach for the Calgary Flames.

-Paul Lewis

- Herald on Sunday

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