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Olympic Bobsledder Who Killed Himself Likely Had C.T.E.

  • April 08, 2021

Jovanovic ran track and played football in high school and saw limited action during two seasons of college football, but he stopped attending Rutgers University full time in 1997 to pursue bobsledding. He spent roughly a decade competing internationally in bobsled, a sport that requires athletes to careen down an ice track at 80 miles an hour and endure a brain rattling experience that researchers have compared with shaken baby syndrome.

Catastrophic crashes causing athletes to slam into the ice underneath overturned sleds are not uncommon. But a combination of speed and vibrations, especially in the tight turns of a sliding track, can damage the brain even when crashes do not occur, experts say.

The C.T.E. finding was made in March by Dr. Ann McKee, a leading neuropathologist and the director of Boston University’s C.T.E. Center, who has discovered the disease in the donated brains of scores of deceased football players. For now, C.T.E. can be diagnosed only posthumously. In Jovanovic’s case, she was only able to study a small sample of the brain but it was enough to indicate “moderate disease,” McKee wrote.

A finding of moderate disease is similar to that of the former N.F.L. players Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Aaron Hernandez, who all died by suicide.

“This does not give me closure, but it gives me an understanding of who my brother was and who he became, and that was someone else,” said Nick Jovanovic, Pavle’s older brother.

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