Risks unavoidable in action sports, say FIS
Burke tragedy compels authorities to take another look at the safety of winter athletes
INNSBRUCK — Action sports are of a dangerous nature, and in the case of sports like ski halfpipe, athletes are ultimately responsible for their well-being, said International Ski Federation Secretary General Sarah Lewis.
“It’s a tragic accident, of course, and everyone is mortified when a young athlete loses their life,” Lewis said in reference to the death of Squamish halfpipe skier Sarah Burke. “We hope very much that athletes’ serious injuries can be prevented, but there are risks to the sport.”
Burke, 29, died Thursday morning in Salt Lake City nine days after sustaining injuries in a fall. She landed a 540 Flat Spin inside a standard 22-foot halfpipe when she hit her head. She had completed the trick several times previously.
“At the end of the day it’s the athlete who is in charge of their performance,” Lewis said from Innsbruck, Austria, where the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games are hosting the premiere of ski halfpipe. “They are in an individual sport and they’re taking those risks.”
In January of 2006, FIS launched a long-term Injury Surveillance System to monitor and study various aspects of each of its sports in an effort to increase safety standards.
Last week, FIS presented a new insuit airbag system meant to inflate in case of crash. The new system is meant for protection against speed.
It is currently not being tested for halfpipe sports.
Study officials are on site at Fishosted events, such as the Olympics and World Cups, but not at private events. Burke’s fall occurred on a run during a sponsor’s event.
“This particular circumstance was not even training, this was a photo shoot,” Lewis said. “You may have special instructions of what you’re expected to do when it comes to a shoot.”
Burke’s coaches were not present at the event, said Canadian Freestyle Ski Association spokeswomen Kelley Korbin.
With ski halfpipe set for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Games — and having already launched its program at the Youth Olympics — Korbin said she could see the association moving towards having coaches and officials present at private events in the future.
“I could see that would be the way it would go,” Korbin said.
Terry Bell dug into the issue of medical coverage that could have cost Sarah Burke’s family upwards of $200,000. But thanks to generous donations, the medical bills have been paid. Check out Page A6 for the story.
Burke’s death has garnered attention for the safety of the sport.
The Winter Youth Olympics saw many athletes ages 15 and 16 competing in the ski halfpipe fall during tricks.
The women’s silver medallist Tiril Sjaastad Christiansen from Norway competed with a cast after having broken her thumb during a training run.
The Youth Olympics also saw figure skaters, hockey players, alpine skiers, and others fall during training and competition.
“It’s kind of like going to a skating rink. If you want to do it, you can do it,” said Youth Olympics Canadian team ski halfpipe coach Brett Mcclleland in Innsbruck.
“At the end of the day, it’s down to the athletes and the coaches and the parents,” he said. “If you don’t feel safe, don’t do it.”