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Heartbreak for Pinky as Injury Forces Ben Pinkelman Out of Olympics

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Heartbreak for Pinky as Injury Forces Ben Pinkelman Out of Olympics

Ben Pinkelman in action at the 2020 LA Sevens. David Barpal photo.

Ben Pinkelman announces his withdrawal from the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 

CHULA VISTA, Calif — USA Men’s 7s National Team player Ben Pinkelman was forced to withdraw from the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 due to a chronic back injury. 

Following his selection, Pinkelman received an epidural that was meant to improve a recent flare up with his condition but the procedure saw no improvement. After exhausting all possible efforts with no progress in recovery, medical personnel had no choice but to deem the 2016 Olympian unfit to play for the Games. 

Brett Thompson (originally named as alternate 13th player) will take Pinkelman’s place while Cody Melphy is selected as the new alternate, pending approval from the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee. Melphy can be played at any time according to a new rule by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

The rule allows select sports to activate their alternate for any given match, giving teams the ability to select a new 12 player lineup from the entire group of 13 each game. While this means the 13th player can assume the same role as anyone in the original 12, the 14th (Naima Fuala’au) and 15th (Malacchi Esdale) traveling reserves can still only be activated to cover injuries up to two days ahead of competition. 

Over the coming months, Pinkelman will receive surgery and continue his rehab with the goal of returning to international rugby in the near future. Until then, the 2016 Olympian and 2-time World Cup player (2018 in 7s; 2019 in 15s) remains embedded in team meetings, video reviews and tactical discussions to use his wealth of knowledge to support the squad’s preparation for Tokyo. 

“I love this game. I love this team," said PInkelman, who started with the Cherry Creek HS program in Colorado and went on to play for Colorado State. "I like to think I’ve played every game and every minute like it’s my last and I’ve enjoyed every second of my time on the field. I have no regrets, but the ups and downs of managing this back injury for the last 3 years has been one of the toughest challenges of my life. 

“Like many rugby players I pride myself on playing through injuries and pain but with recent setbacks, I’ve reached a point where it is no longer safe or possible for me to compete. 

“After missing the medal rounds in 2016 by a points differential of one, winning a medal is all I’ve really cared about. The Olympics and rugby are how I represent the people in my life that I care about. It truly means everything to me and I take pride in knowing I did everything I could, and tried as hard as possible to represent them and my country. 

“I know this team will make themselves and this country proud. It’s going to break my heart watching them take the field at the Olympics but I know they can win gold.”

Head Coach Mike Friday feels for Pinkelman.

“It’s hugely disappointing for all of us that Pinky has had to withdraw and we are gutted as a squad," said Friday. "Ben is an absolute warrior but he has to be sensible now as his physical well-being is of paramount importance to all of us. We need to get his back healthy. 

“He is a world-class forward on the World Rugby Sevens Series who is a huge part of the Dawgs on and off the pitch.”