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Olympics hit with lawsuit from the family of dead bobsledder

Days after the closing ceremony in Beijing, the Olympics are now being sued by the family of Pavle Jovanovic, a bobsledder who killed himself after suffering from brain injuries they allege he received from bobsledding.

(CN) — The brother of U.S. Olympic bobsledder Pavle Jovanovic, who killed himself, says the Olympics did not do enough to warn and protect his brother from traumatic brain injuries, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

According to the complaint, years of being rattled in the bobsled led to Jovanovic to suffer brain injuries, causing him to become depressed and ultimately his suicide in 2020 at the age of 43.

An autopsy performed shortly after his death revealed that Jovanovic likely had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, an injury most often seen in high-impact athletes such as football players and boxers. 

The diagnosis makes Jovanovic the first athlete in a sliding sport to have CTE.

The 139-page complaint blames CTE for Jovanovic’s death, saying the effects of it became too much for him to bear.

“He was competing against an opponent who does not lose,” the complaint says.

Jovanovic turned to alcohol to deal with the brain trauma, and developed Parkinson-like symptoms in 2013, the complaint says.

Pointing fingers at the U.S. bobsled team, the complaint says the Olympics has glossed over these brain injuries for decades by coining the term “sled head."

The Olympics knew the damage that bobsledding could do to Jovanovic, referred to as Pauly in the complaint, but failed to act or warn him and other athletes, the lawsuit alleges.

“Despite knowledge of the decades of medical science detailing the development of traumatic brain injuries in athletes who are exposed to brain trauma and the use of ‘sled head’ within the sport of bobsled, defendants failed to warn and protect Pauly and the other athletes who have  taken their lives as a result of their injuries from repeated head trauma. Instead, they concealed from him the risks of repeated head trauma,” says the complaint.

The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee(USOPC), who is also listed in the complaint, is responsible for overseeing the safety of athletes, something they did not do for Jovanovic, the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit adds that the International Olympic Committee cared more about profit than the athletes, specifically by emphasizing the speed and providing recap clips of all the rides.

“These efforts to promote viewership and exploit the dangers of the sport deemphasize the acute and chronic risks associated with head impacts,” the complaint says. “It is a deep culture of exploitation and purposeful financial gain off the health and welfare of athletes.”

Jovanovic is not the first Olympic bobsledder to take their own life. Since 2013, two others have also committed suicide and five others have attempted. Additionally two American bobsledders have died from an overdose, most notably Steven Holcomb who won gold in 2010.

In 2002 Jovanovic was suspended from competing in the Olympics for two years after testing positive for a banned steroid. Jovanovic claimed he was unaware a nutritional supplement contained the banned ingredient.

An article from Team USA at the time of his death noted that the USOPC said they were focusing on the mental health of their athletes.

“The USOPC is focused on raising awareness around mental health resources and needs within the Team USA community and promoting a culture that encourages proactively seeking and delivering mental health support for everyone,” the article noted.

Jovanovic, a New Jersey native, was on the bobsled team for over a decade and was seen as the top “brakemen” in the world at the time. He has won 19 medals in World Cup competitions for bobsledding.

The United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation are also listed as defendants in the complaint.

Patrick D’Arcy, with the D’Arcy Johnson Day law firm, is representing Nicholas Jovanovic, Pavle’s brother. He did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

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