Illness Forces Kennedy to Retire
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 16, 1997; Page E1
Even yesterday, a day after U.S. luger Duncan Kennedy announced his retirement from the sport, his voice still conveyed the frustration from a decision he wished he didnít have to make.
On his doctorsí advice, Kennedy ended his 18-year sliding career seven weeks short of his fourth Olympic Games. Kennedy has been suffering from bleeding in his brain stem, a condition he has had since birth.
"Obviously, something else is pulling me out of my sport. . . . Itís going to be difficult," Kennedy said yesterday from his Lake Placid, N.Y., home. "This is just so out of the blue. I know it hasnít sunk in yet."
Kennedy, who will turn 30 Saturday, entered this fall as the best hope of the rising U.S. luge teamís quest for a coveted first U.S. Olympic medal in Nagano.
"Iíve been working hard for this February and it basically just stinks that Iím not going to be there," Kennedy said. However, "the symptoms are still there."
Kennedyís World Cup season was cut short in late October when nausea and dizziness caused by his condition arteriovenous malformation prevented him from competing. After Kennedy received doctorsí clearance to resume training this week, a Sacramento neurosurgeon with experience treating Kennedyís problem urged him to give up the sport for good.
"Iíve always said I think weíre capable of winning five medals at the Olympics," said Ron Rossi, the U.S. Luge Association executive director. "Now I will say we are capable of winning four."
Even without Kennedy, who is the most decorated luger in U.S. history with 21 World Cup medals, the U.S. team looks to be very strong with Wendel Sukow and Cammy Myler in singles and the doubles teams of Gordy Sheer and Chris Thorpe, and Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin (Grimmette and Martin still are fighting for an Olympic spot).
Kennedy canceled his plans to take a trial run today in Calgary. The Sacramento neurosurgeon, Michael Edwards, reviewed an arteriogram and magnetic resonance imaging exam.
"Heís concerned because there has been bleeding in the past," said Brad Stephens, the primary physician for the U.S. Luge Association. "He feels that since the symptoms have not disappeared, then there must be something going on."
In 1981, Kennedy experienced violent vomiting, double vision and severe dizziness because of his condition. Before this fall, there had been no substantial recurrence. Kennedy had, however, experienced several small episodes of dizziness over the past several years.
Even before deciding to announce his retirement, Kennedy seemed uncertain about returning to training. During a conference call last week, he called his situation "unnerving" and said "it worries me sometimes."
"Apparently a lot of people have this and it is treatable," Kennedy said. "The problem with mine is that itís located right on the brain stem and that makes any kind of treatment extremely risky."
Kennedy, who has won two World Cup gold medals, gained fame in 1993 for defending black teammate Robert Pipkins in an attack by a gang of neo-Nazi skinheads in Oberhof, Germany.
Kennedy said he will begin coaching full time. He has no plans to go to Nagano for the Olympic Games, and he said he wasnít sure he could even watch the luge events on television.
"I didnít picture it ending like this," Kennedy said. "I thought Iíd end my career speaking on a podium with a medal. But Iím very happy with my whole career. I broke a lot of ground and saw a lot of dreams come true."
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