Throwback Thursday Interview: Gee Atherton Remembers the 5 Biggest Crashes of his Career

Apr 2, 2020
by James Smurthwaite  
Credit: Dan Griffiths

One of the recent social media challenges that has been keeping our stoke high during the Coronavirus lockdown is the #crashchallenge. To take part, riders look back through their hard drives and post the biggest slams of their career. There was one undisputed champion of the challenge - Gee Atherton.

It's a dubious honour but the 35-year-old has endured a fair few hard slams in his career and he showed some seriously wince-inducing airtime in the crashes he posted. We caught up with Gee to get his memories on some of the biggest hits he's endured inside and outside the race tape:


Tignes, 2008




"Someone had put on a snow race but the snow wasn't firm enough on race day and it got called off. We got the boys together, me, Affy [Dan Atherton] and Cunny [Richard Cunynghame], and just hiked up the hill to find something to ride. It was a big snowboard jump they had put together for something else and our eyes popped out of our heads, it was perfect. It was massive but we were all buzzing for it.

"We were jumping on a snowmobile to get us to the top of the piste and we all did a few roll-ins to it and it seemed relatively chill. I remember Me and Affy sat in front of it and we were like, 'Whatever happens, whoever hits it first, the other one has to hit it as well'. We shook hands and I went up for another roll in. As I was coming up to it I thought, 'I'm going to hit it, this feels perfect'. Obviously, it wasn't... by about 50%.

"There were two issues I think. One is you're on a big wide open snow piste and you don't have things to judge your speed against like rocks and roots. Everything's really smooth and all the usual things that we're so refined to gauge our speed on just aren't there. Next problem, if you look carefully in the video, you see me quite close to a skier who was just cutting his way down the piste. I was trying to get past him and I had to speed tuck and pump a few times because I didn't want him to hold me up. So I managed to get past him, thinking, 'Oh it's clear now, brilliant' but I was probably going at 70km/h and I hadn't realised I'd gained so much speed. Even leading up to the jump I wasn't sure if I had speed and you can see me pump a few times just to get that extra few miles per hour out of it.

"I remember being in the air and I was level with the people in the chairlift next to it and I remember still climbing as I was going over the lip. I had this brief split-second thinking, 'Should I jump off?' but I decided that would be the completely wrong thing to do. The last thing I remember was thinking 'just brace' and I tensed up as hard as I could. It's like a film because I remember that quite clearly and then I remember going into the floor and it cuts and just goes black. That bit of my memory is just missing.

"I didn't break anything I just slammed the floor hard and it was packed ice so it was like hitting concrete. I smashed my face up a bit, cut my neck, I cut my balls open. I think I popped out one side of my jaw as well so my face was really swollen and I couldn't eat for days. I knocked myself out pretty bad but I had this weird thing for weeks afterward where every time I tried to do something my body just didn't want to do it. I felt horrific and really heavy but I didn't really break much, I'd say I got away lightly.

"We were all staying in this chalet and I think two days after that we had a really good dump of powder and we were all going out skiing so I remember going out with them trying to get a day in but I felt so bad I had to knock it on the head and go home."




Mont-Sainte-Anne, 2012



"I remember on that bit of the track there was a boardwalk that they'd put in to cover a muddy bit and then a bit of a flyoff. It was quite rutted so I remember just coming in, absolutely cracking on and pulling off the end of it to clear a load of the stuff. As I pulled, I got the timing wrong and I just pitched slowly forward and passed that point of coming back.

"It's probably the fastest part of the track, it's quite open there it's literally through the speed trap. When we looked at the results from timed training I had a speed next to my name despite not being on the bike... it wasn't a bad time either! I went down and then I rolled and the ground was just hard-packed, rough and rocky and every time I touched the floor it was bits of skin coming off. I didn't break anything, I took a fairly heavy hit to the head but I lost so much skin. I remember going home after it and there was no part of my body that wasn't torn apart and bleeding. I was missing so much skin.

"I hadn't broken anything so the pain was just that type of pain where if you can get through it, it's not going to physically stop you it's just the uncomfortable feeling of being sore. My whole career I've tried to have a rule that I would race no matter what and that always helps because it takes that question out of the situation. I managed to ride and I was on the podium. I remember crossing line having come fourth being a bit frustrated but looking back on it I'm surprised I managed to ride."





Rampage, 2012



"I remember going in really really hungry for it, I love Rampage. The problem with this event though was on the Tuesday or Wednesday the week before I built this step-down, it wasn't huge, but I 50/50'd it straight onto the rock at the top of the lip and broke the bottom of my leg. My ankle slammed into the tibia and fractured the bottom of my leg.

"I couldn't walk on it, it was massive and basically I went back to the hotel for two days and iced it. I couldn't move around and the lads were cracking on building my line so I said, 'Right, I'll chill for a few days and do what I can.' The night before the event I was limping around the car park, I was on the bike, we gaffer taped my ankle up and I was dropping off kerbs and steps thinking 'Can I ride? Can I not?' We were up all night doing this.

"Anyway, inevitably we decided it was worth a try and hiked up the mountain about 6am the next morning and my warm up was that gap to wall ride which I'd hit for my finals [in 2010]. I managed to do it and I remember being so stoked because it meant it was on. The next thing to try was to guinea pig this new gap so I came in hot, misjudged the angle and slammed the wall as you can see in the video.

"I don't remember being overly fussed about the gap but I think that's the problem. I was kind of rushing, I wasn't quite concentrating because I was already injured and I didn't quite line up the run in perfectly. I've got a nature that if I'm a bit unsure about something I just want to get it hit and get it done, I think that's what I did with this. I hadn't quite eyed it up perfectly and put the markers out and that was part of the problem. I wasn't anxious about it so maybe I wasn't careful enough.

"I was fine, I think I knocked myself out a little bit, rag dolled, chopped up some skin but nothing broken - apart form my leg, which was already broken. I remember getting up, covered in dirt, I had put my teeth through my lip, concussed and my leg was killing me and I was thinking, 'f*ck me, what am I doing?' I was just a mess you know? I was like, 'I can't compete boys, you've broken me'.

"I've always thought myself to be quite cautious and quite calculated and I think that's why I've managed to have a long career and get away with a lot. The crashes are a part of what we do but I think they definitely make you aware of what can go wrong. You can't let that dampen your spirits and make you get too cautious and I think I've always been able to deal with them quite well and find a way to just dull them down in my head so I don't look back on them as that big."


Are you interested in returning to Rampage if the event runs this year?


"I would be yeah, I went last year and watched and I was gutted I wasn't competing. Rampage has always been an event that's so special to me and I do love it. When I go back there I always get that feeling driving into the site and, it's hallowed ground you know? I'd love to do it and I hold a special place in my heart for that."





Mont Sainte Anne, 2013




"It was a pretty simple crash really. It was that super fast section that you dive off into a super tight bus stop. I'd gone through a hundred times and I probably wasn't super concentrated at the time and it just caught me out. It was all about timing where to brake and I was a little late in the rut and it stood me up. I just got thrown off the track and into those tight trees. I was right off the back of the bike braking, trying to slow the bike down and just slammed into the trees which stopped me dead. Well, they stopped the bike dead and I shot forward. I had a seat with carbon rails on at the time and I just tore it off with my balls.

bigquotesIt took me 20 seconds to work up the courage to look.Gee Atherton

"I had that hit and I stumbled out of the woods and I remember thinking, 'Oh no'. When you watch the full video, there's a bit of a period between me crashing and whipping my shorts down to check and it was just because it took me 20 seconds to work up the courage. I was convinced I was going to see something I didn't want to see.

"I remember thinking, 'If I look and I see what I'm expecting to see, I don't really know what to do'. You can deal with a cut on your arm or leg and you're used to it but I remember thinking 'If I see something missing down here then it's game over'."





Fort William, 2017


Fort William DH World Cup 2016 image


"It was the British National round and I'd just changed to a 29er that weekend. Practice had gone well, qualifying had gone well, I was just in front of Danny [Hart] so in the race run, I remember going for it. Pushing those extra few percents for a race run where you're so on the edge when you have something you're not quite used to, I guess that just caught me out. I hit that first hip fast and they had built it up with a steep lip for some reason so as I squashed into it, the back wheel just caught my ass and perfectly catapulted me up and over. I did a perfect up, over and down like someone had picked me up and turned me upside down and slammed me into the floor with my head the other side.

"It was a heavy crash and I went down hard and knocked myself out because the ground is like concrete. I remember coming around just woozy, trying to stand and my hip hanging around at a bad angle, my head absolutely battered. I broke two vertebrae as well, which I kept quiet, one quite high up and one quite low down, just from landing on my head.

"It was a massive psychological battle. The nature of the crash was really unpleasant and the nature of the time after it was horrific as well, which is why it stayed with me a bit more. I was on the hill for an hour or more before they could get me off, all this time with my hip hanging out of the socket. I remember kneeling up because sometimes with a shoulder you can get it back in. I remember kneeling up and pulling down on my hip and nearly passing out. Apparently two big strong lads are needed to pop a hip back in, it's not something you can do yourself.

"Anyway, I was in the hospital and they couldn't put it in there so they took me up to Inverness - all this time I'm on a stretcher, gripping my leg, trying to hold it still because it's hanging out of the socket and I was a bit f*cked up. I had to learn to walk again mid-season, I remember walking down the corridor of the hospital with this walking frame it was a slow process but overall at the time I was quite lucky.

"I probably raced a bit early but it was mid-season I managed to get back for. I just wanted to get back on the bike as quickly as I could because, to be honest, that was the only crash I've ever had that made me think I didn't really want to race again. That was the only time I'd ever thought that and it was scary to have that thought because that's quite a serious thing. It passed, it took a bit of time before I could get back into it but I soon did. It was once I could get my head around the recovery process I came back to it you know."


88 Comments

  • 177 4
 I honestly don’t think we’ll see a rider like gee again. He could do the lot. 4x,dh,hardline and rampage. So talented on a bike. But even with raw talent, he still worked so hard on and off the bike for his fans and his sponsors. Always in excellent shape and always prepared to go through any pain to compete and normally win. The athertons have done so much for our sport. I I’d love to see him switch to enduro like Sam. I think he’d do well with the technical courses they race. The wc dh has become stagnant imo and the riders like Sam and gee don’t suit the bike park style tracks where outright speed favours technical skill.
  • 34 0
 We shouldn't forget that he even did fairly well in slopestyle. When I was new to this MTB thing I saw him throwing down some impressive tricks (for that time) when I watched Red Bull district ride live in 2006, I think. All around talent!
  • 44 0
 Motherf'ker is hard as nails too reading some of those injuries. How can you keep riding Rampage with a fractured tibia?! Much respect.
  • 3 1
 @mulv1976: Hard as nails is right.
  • 18 0
 Works...not worked. Don't put that dude on the shelf. He tasted podium again last season.
  • 11 1
 @blowmyfuse:
Seems like a lot of crashes from the Athertons on the GTs. I recall Brook MacDonald saying he had to leave GT because the bike was so difficult to ride. Maybe there was something about the bike.

I will add that Gee is a great ambassador of the sport. Takes time out for people when not a lot do.
  • 6 1
 @vjunior21: iDrive was a bonus back in the fire road mixed with gnarly descent days, but by the time they signed the Atherton's it was archaic and dampers had advanced.
But the bikes had nothing to do with him going catatonic. He had injuries that caused him setbacks after having been THE dominant rider on the circuit prior to the first big slam. After that, he had just a brutal rash of injuries trying to get back to his spot up top.

People seem to forget that Gee was top 3 at most any World Cup he signed up for before the injury bug bit. He's been trying to overcome tremendous hurdles to fight against the rising tide of his peers and the new generation. If you're not healthy at 29, it's hard to keep those 10ths of a seconds. The iDrive was more to blame for a few places down the finish order, but his health was the big hurdle.
  • 13 0
 I've had a number of crashes just like the snow jump one. Thanks god I always wake up right before I hit the ground.
  • 5 2
 @vjunior21: First season out on the metal Fury, Gee went 1,1,2 at World Cups. There was nothing wrong with that bike. He would have won the WC on that bike first time out if there wasn't a Chainsaw Massacre at the end of the season.
  • 5 0
 @mulv1976: Hard. As. Nails. F**cker is pure beast. Those frenchies might have some fast guys right now, but its hard to beat the UK for toughness
  • 1 3
 @jaame:

Somehow I still going to blame it on GT. I have no proof, rational or reasoning that would make any sense. I look to my superiors to learn how to rationalize things so I can only support my claim by saying it is an...alternative fact. LOL. Almost got through that one with a straight face.
  • 2 0
 @vjunior21: Someone sheered a headtube right off at one of GT's debut World Cups with that bike. I keep thinking Blenki...but that's gotta be wrong.
  • 3 0
 He's gotten a lot of flack through the years, and I've never agreed with that attitude. He's a great guy, and when needed, an intense guy too. Who can begrudge that?! Ride on Gee, you're awesome!
  • 2 0
 @vjunior21: who knows, maybe he would have won every round if he was on a Wilson. We will never know. It is possible that the Fury was a bag of shite and he still won because he was awesome.
  • 1 0
 @blowmyfuse: Lorenzo Suding
www.pinkbike.com/video/332120
  • 63 0
 So in summary ... he overshoots a snowboard jump by a country mile while overtaking a skier; does Rampage with a broken leg; destroys part of his bike with his gonads; and tries to put his own hip back into it's socket while severely concussed and with a couple of busted vertebrae.
  • 37 0
 The whole family is tough as nails... Remember when Rachel dislocated her shoulder and tried to get a couple of fans to set it for her trackside? As I recall she cussed the guy out for being too much of a sissy to pull it hard enough to reset it. Then she tried stepping on her hand to set it herself.
  • 7 0
 @BikesBoatsNJeeps: watched a buddy try to Lethal Weapon his back into place at Snowshoe ON THE LIFT TOWER POLE. When 6'2" of hyperactive intellectual meets movie fiction, you witness a whirlwind of emotions go across their face. And every one of us almost puked..... Ninja
  • 3 0
 @BikesBoatsNJeeps: i don't know why i laughed so hard at that Big Grin
  • 2 0
 @imho4ep: I laughed at your response to blowmyfuse.
  • 2 0
 @BikesBoatsNJeeps: Or that time she ran head on into a truck on a road bike and Gee thought she was done for. This family has grit!
m.pinkbike.com/news/rachel-atherton-car-accident-2009.html
  • 2 0
 @DoubleCrownAddict: forgot about that... Yeah she's a badass.
  • 40 0
 "I had this weird thing for weeks afterward where every time I tried to do something my body just didn't want to do it."

I had that too once, it lasted from around the age of 2 until now.
  • 36 0
 “I cut my balls open.” The most awful quote ever! =P
  • 18 0
 gentlemen, assume the foetal position.
  • 3 1
 @tobiusmaximum: go foetal, curl yourself up, and trundle yoursel back into the ballsack from where you came
  • 7 0
 I’m a welder....only thing worst than a cut is burning your dick.....
  • 2 1
 There's a guy here whose nickname is Nutsack. He said he was street riding, bunny hopped a trash can & nicked them. Said he jerked his pants down, one was dangling down out of the sack, he sort of poked it with a finger and it jerked back up into the sack.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. What dude on here didn't just get a visual?
  • 1 0
 @scotttherider: can testify, nothing like a glob of hot metal on the nutsack.
  • 11 0
 @scotttherider: f@ck dude, did you weld your dick?
  • 5 0
 Why am I laughing hysterically as he tentatively yanks down his baggies to check the condition 9f the ol' spunk bunkers/dong pillow?
  • 1 0
 @PinkyScar: spunk bunkers, hahahaha not heard them called that before
  • 3 0
 Dirt jump session behind my house in the mid 90s a buddy ended up with like 20 stitches to the sack...I will never forget his quote "dude they are hanging out", still gives me chills to this day.....I couldn't ride for a week.
  • 2 0
 @blowmyfuse: witnessed a bike crash nut gash myself — 1992 Mongoose Hilltopper size 22” and the share bar end corner pinched his sack between that sharp edge and the top tube when crashing. 53 stitches and they had to scrub it with a medical brush...at 14 years old with female nurses helping because a few of the male nurses couldn’t entirely handle it =P
  • 1 0
 @RadBartTaylor: Witnessed a bike crash nut gash myself — 1992 Mongoose Hilltopper size 22” and the share bar end corner pinched his sack between that sharp edge and the top tube when crashing. 53 stitches and they had to scrub it with a medical brush...at 14 years old with female nurses helping because a few of the male nurses couldn’t entirely handle it =P
  • 1 0
 @scotttherider: No one thought the welder would take “balls of steel” literally =P
  • 1 0
 Look-up "Testicular Torsion." Had the joy of getting one of those once on a long road ride. Sent me to the ER and they had to give me morphine which just took the edge off. Thankfully we were able to reverse it before I lost lefty.

Still hurts just thinking about it.
  • 4 0
 starting to wish i hadn't commented on this, because now my dashboard is just a stream of testicle based medical horror stories. *wince
  • 1 0
 @scotttherider: Maybe, but when I was a kid my mom was a nurse at an ER. She told us once about this big construction worker who came in needing attention. He asked if there was a guy around that could help him. Nope, just my mom at that moment in time. So, he pulls down his pants and reveals that he had a drill bit right through his dick! I was somewhere around 10-12yrs old at the time when she told us that one. I'm 42 next week and that story still sticks out in my mind. Said she never heard such a big tough guy scream and cry as much as that poor bastard did while they were dealing with the bit. Brutal.
  • 2 0
 @tobiusmaximum: haha I once ripped open my sack on my top tube cable mounts. 7 stitches later after hours in a rural doctors surgery with no anasthetic and a questionable week in a nappy, swore never again to buy a bike with cables mounts up there! better having to deal with dirty cables under the downtube than that
  • 1 0
 @metalvelo: oh shit! That takes the cake. Was at a shop a guy smashed his head between two plates. Rumor has it it acted like a squished grape. That was right before getting laid off in 09 so never did see or hear from that guy again.
  • 1 0
 @RadBartTaylor: dude you diserve more votes pisser
  • 33 0
 i blame that skier.
  • 77 0
 For all 5 of the crashes.
  • 27 0
 What a dude, one of the gnarliest the sport has ever seen. And people would say he was boring at some point because he actually trained for races or didn't smile on demand like an idiot... yeah right, boring my arse.
  • 19 0
 Fuck, I don't want to be a mountain biker anymore.
  • 17 0
 "I had a seat with carbon rails on at the time and I just tore it off with my balls"
  • 5 0
 Good case for not running a carbon saddle for dh
  • 3 0
 @ibishreddin: Or look at it this way - something had to give. If the saddle has been stronger it would have been his ballsack.
  • 17 0
 carbon seat - 0 Gees balls - 1 (balls of steel)
  • 9 0
 Gee is such a gnarly dude, so impressive he comes back from huge slams and injuries in awesome shape and pushes the speed and going huge at Hardline. Respect.
  • 8 0
 This is educational in many ways.
  • 7 0
 Gee is one tough Mofo. It's impossible not to root for the Atherton's all around. This entire family IS MOUNTAIN BIKING!
  • 6 0
 How the devil does he (and other riders) even get up from those crashes? Machines. I'd be balling.
  • 3 0
 It is impressive, yet easy to explain, at least partially. Their fitness and muscles build-up does a whole lot of a good job. And Gee in particular is a monster.
  • 3 0
 You don't make it far in the sport with brittle bones and loose joints, that's for sure.
  • 5 0
 Gnarly dude. When you meet him he is just the nicest guy, with time for everyone; just like his brother and sister. They are a real credit to the sport.
  • 2 0
 Watching him on WC tracks and trails I've never ridden is always impressive as it is, but the Levy Atherton video from Whistlers Garbo zone is still one that blows me away the most for some reason. Captain Safety at full commitment... Holy sh.t
  • 3 0
 Me too. And not just his riding (which was incredible). First and foremost, he came across to me as a very decent person.
  • 5 0
 'If I see something missing down here then it's game over'. That's what she said.
  • 1 0
 I'm still limping from a crash 2 months ago where I bashed my hip and gave myself a concussion (6hrs A&E). I race the odd enduro but am already thinking of packing that up and getting something less focused to ride. I'm such a wet fart!! Much respect to Gee and all the other amazing athletes in all branches of this sport. I would love to see him make the switch to enduro as well. Pinkbike poll: what sort of nad protection will you get next? Go well everyone.
  • 4 0
 Gee deserves a video docu but i want to see full runs in there not just inserts and face talking
  • 3 0
 Insane stories from Gee. Just think we thought the crashes were gnarly then and we didn't know for half of em he already had something broken.
  • 1 0
 I remember every one of those from the time when they happened. I was sure his rampage crash where he clipped that rock outcrop had done serious and permanent damage. Its unreal how tough Gee is. Serious respect to his ability to withstand catastrophes that would leave most thinking about finding a different, safer sport. Like lion taming or shark wrestling. The man is an icon of an athlete.
  • 3 0
 I assume they would, but Redbull should always hold a spot open for Gee at Rampage. Definitely a crowd favourite
  • 2 0
 I wonder what all those crashes will feel like when he’s my age. I remember mine every morning, and mine pale by comparison.
  • 4 0
 Gee Atherton is an iconic figure of downhill.
  • 4 0
 Thanks Pinkbike for posting this article. Chuck Norris of Mountainbiking?
  • 2 0
 There is an insane video somewhere of Gee trying to backflip a trail or road gap and taking a massive slam. The guy is gnarly.
  • 3 0
 Holy snow jumps that snow jump was scary.
  • 2 0
 Great article! That rampage one was the worst in my mind!
  • 3 0
 Gee Rick man
  • 1 0
 The speed was spot on. I offline a little and why is there a cliff in front of me.
  • 1 0
 yeah if that was me i would have analyzed it for an hour and then still walked away.
  • 2 0
 Geejus Christ Gee. Hard charger and hard man. One of the greats.
  • 2 0
 Surprised he can still remember those. Savage looking crashes.
  • 2 0
 Sod superman Gee is the real Man of Steal....
  • 2 0
 I feel sick ???? No bikes for me
  • 1 0
 Remember Kids, if you're not crashing, you're not trying! But safety first, always protect your balls.
  • 2 0
 with balls that huge, its no wonder he keeps racking them.
  • 2 0
 damn, his balls have taken more abuse than ron jeremy's
  • 2 0
 After reading this I‘m quitting mtb - too risky
  • 1 0
 geez, I hadn't seen some of those before. Brutal. He makes the Friday Fails look like rank amateurs.
  • 3 2
 If he can remember then they weren't that bad Razz
  • 1 0
 He should of wore a parachute!!!

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