Skip to main content

Intriguing people for January 4, 2010

By Jay Kernis, CNN
Snowboarder Kevin Pearce landed on his head while attempting a twisting double back flip during training.
Snowboarder Kevin Pearce landed on his head while attempting a twisting double back flip during training.
  • Top U.S. snowboarder injured during training
  • World's tallest tower opens in Dubai
  • Fourth-largest U.S. city swears in its first openly gay mayor

Editor's note: Every weekday, CNN focuses on a handful of people in the news. This is a chance to find out more about what they've done -- good or bad -- what they've said or what they believe, and why we think they're intriguing.

(CNN) -- Kevin Pearce
One of the country's top snowboarders, who was considered a favorite to make the U.S. Olympic team, was in critical but stable condition Sunday after an accident while training last week at Park City, Utah.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the 22-year-old from Norwich, Vermont, was wearing a helmet while attempting a twisting double back flip on an icy halfpipe. Pearce hit his head, was knocked unconscious and was then airlifted to the University of Utah hospital for surgery. He sustained severe traumatic brain injury, one of his doctors said in a statement. Pearce, a beloved athlete, was one of the few snowboarders who experts thought could challenge top contender Shaun White, who has won almost every top snowboarding medal.

Los Angeles Times: Snowboarder in critical condition

Adrian Smith
One of the world's most widely recognized architects is one of the principal designers of the world's tallest tower, the Burj Dubai, which opens today in the emirate of Dubai. The 160-plus-story structure has already been hailed as a monumental architectural achievement but is seen by some as a symbol of the city's unbridled excess. The majestic silvery construction houses a luxury hotel, apartments and offices. Six years in the making, the Burj Dubai reaches 818 meters, or half a mile, into the sky above Dubai, with dizzying views of the ambitious building program that has transformed the emirate and left it swamped by debt.

Smith worked for four decades at the structure's architecture firm, Chicago, Illinois-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which called the Burj "a bold global icon that will serve as a model for future urban centers." Declaring that "tall buildings are back," the company predicts that the groundbreaking techniques it used to push the Burj to new heights should enable the construction of even taller towers in the future.

CNN: Debt-hit Dubai opens world's tallest tower

Kurt Westergaard
The Danish political cartoonist was threatened by a Somali man wielding an ax and knife. According to Westergaard, the man tried to enter the house by breaking through a glass door Friday night. Westergaard took his 5-year-old granddaughter into a specially built "panic room" when he realized what was happening, Chief Superintendent Ole Madsen said. Police said a home alarm alerted them to the scene in the city of Aarhus, and they were attacked by the suspect when they responded. Police shot the suspect and he was taken into custody. Westergaard, who has been threatened for drawing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005, is ordinarily accompanied by bodyguards, but there were no guards at the house when the break-in occurred.

The New York Times quoted a Danish newspaper report that Denmark's security and intelligence agency knew that the accused Somali man was held in Kenya in September for allegedly helping to plot an attack against Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited Kenya in August. The man was released earlier this fall by Kenyan authorities due to lack of evidence, the newspaper Politiken reported. Denmark's ambassador to Kenya told the news agency Ritzau, however, that the Somali man was arrested in Kenya for incomplete travel documents, adding that Kenyan authorities never told the embassy that he was a suspect in a terror plot.

CNN: Cartoonist hid in 'panic room' during attack

Annise Parker
Houston's first openly gay mayor will be sworn in today. Parker's election last month also makes her the second woman to become mayor of Houston. Other cities such as Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Oregon, have picked openly gay mayors. Houston is the fourth-largest U.S. city.

Parker's victory is also remarkable because a few years ago, Houston rejected a referendum to offer benefits to same-sex partners of city workers. Also, the city sits in a state where gay marriage is against the law. Parker, 53, has never shied away from, nor made an issue of, her sexual orientation. She has been with her partner for 19 years and they have two adopted children.

CNN: Houston elects first openly gay mayor

What makes a person intriguing?

There are people who enter the news cycle every day because their actions or decisions are new, important or different. Others are in the news because they are the ones those decisions affect. And there are a number of people who are so famous or controversial that anything they say or do becomes news.

Some of these people do what we expect of them: They run for office, pass legislation, start a business, get hired or fired, commit a crime, make an arrest, get in accidents, hit a home run, overthrow a government, fight wars, sue an opponent, put out fires, prepare for hurricanes and cavort with people other than their spouses. They do make news, but the action is usually more important than who is involved in the story.

But every day, there are a number of people who become fascinating to us -- by virtue of their character, how they reached their decision, how they behaved under pressure or because of the remarkable circumstances surrounding the event they are involved in.

They arouse our curiosity. We hear about them and want to know more. What they have done or said stimulates conversations across the country. At times, there is even a mystery about them. What they have done may be unique, heroic, cowardly or ghastly, but they capture our imaginations. We want to know what makes them tick, why they believe what they do, and why they did what they did. They intrigue us.