Australian cyclist Anna Meares, winner of the 2004 Olympic 500-meter gold medal in track cycling, could miss a chance to defend her title due to a serious race accident. Meares suffered a fractured neck vertebrae and dislocated shoulder in a crash during a track cycling World Cup meet in Los Angeles nine days ago.
The crash has put her Beijing Olympic selection in jeopardy and forced her out of Australian and world championship meets. "I realize that I'm pretty lucky with the injuries that I have come away with," Meares said on Tuesday. "The C2 vertebrae, so I have been told, is the one that controls all your breathing and if that goes, so too does your life."
Meares, who will be sidelined for about six weeks, sits fourth on the World Cup points table, with the top nine granted an Olympic berth.
With two Olympic qualification meetings to come, Meares, 24, could be surpassed by other riders _ meaning she would need an exemption from world cycling's governing body, the UCI. The UCI can award wild cards to riders, but only if a pre-qualified cyclist withdraws from the Olympics. "If I miss out on points, I will have to continue training through and hope the UCI gives me that wild card," she said. Australian track cycling head coach Martin Barras said Meares' Olympic selection "has been taken out of our hands". "Where we had control of the selection process, now we don't anymore," Barras said.
"Considering the severity of the injuries, we don't want to mingle with her recovery with any sort of pressure with regards to qualifying or getting back into racing before she is fully ready _ the severity of the neck injury dictates that."
Meares also suffered torn neck muscles, torn shoulder tendons and bruising in her fall in the kierin final in Los Angeles. "I remember hitting my head and being in a lot of pain straight away, and the next thing that I remember was being on the bottom of the track being tended to," she said.
"When it's explained to you how severe the injury could have been, (I feel) fortunate to walk away with as little as I have got."