Canadian skier dies in crash at World Cup event
Published Saturday, March 10, 2012 10:23PM EST
The crash that claimed the life of a Canadian skicross racer in Saturday was a "freak accident" and doesn't mean the sport is more dangerous than others, the president of Alpine Canada said.
Nik Zoricic, 29, of Toronto, Ont., was killed when he smashed into safety netting at the side of the course in Grindelwald, Switzerland after going wide in the final jump of a World Cup race.
He died in hospital around 12:35 p.m. Swiss time after suffering severe head injuries. The accident occurred in the finish area during the fourth heat of the finals.
"I would say the ultimate extreme sport is probably downhill racing," Max Gartner said in a conference call from Fernie, B.C. Saturday.
"There is inherent risk in all the sports. I would not qualify skicross (as) being any more (dangerous) than many of the other sports," he said.
Skicross has been described as downhill motocross racing on snow that begins with a mass start and then goes through a number of heats until the final race.
It's a sport Canadians have excelled in, with Ashleigh McIvor of Whistler, B.C., capturing the Olympic gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games, after the International Olympic Committee made it an official event in 2006.
McIvor described the sport's risks as similar to those of driving a car.
"The fact is there are risks associated with our sport and really pretty much everything I do in life," McIvor said Saturday during the same conference call.
"I've unfortunately lost a lot of friends in the mountains and my friends who are from cities have lost a lot of friends to car accidents or a lot of other things," McIvor said.
Olympic skicross analyst Chris Kent told CTV News Channel he'll wait until all the facts come out, but after watching a video of the crash he doesn't think Zoricic hit netting at all.
"It looked to me like he hit the structure that was holding up the finish banner. In my mind, it looked like it should have been protected better," he said Saturday from Whistler, B.C.
He said it appeared there wasn't a net to protect skiers, or padding to deflect them away from the pole at the finish line.
"Anything like that that's anywhere near the course has got to be protected with netting or foam padding, stuff that deflects you away from it on an angle," Kent said.
Zoricic was described by a head coach at the Collingwood, Ont., ski club he belonged to as the kind of athlete kids saw as a role model.
"Whenever he could fit it into his schedule, he would be here signing autographs and skiing with all the young racers . . . it's a pretty sad day," Craigleith Ski Club's Dave Campbell told CTV News Channel Saturday.
"He was someone all the little ski racers here looked up to and the club is kind of just distraught and still in a bit of a state of shock," he said in a telephone interview.
"Nik was a role model. He was a mentor, just a complete all-round good guy," Campbell said.
Campbell said it was clear from a young age that Zoricic had a talent for ski racing. His family moved to Canada from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina when he was five years old.
"He progressed pretty quickly right up through the racing system to the provincial team and national team and then switched over to the national skicross team," he said.
Other skiers also sent condolences, many using the social media site Twitter.
Canadian Alpine racer Kelly VanderBeek tweeted that she grew up skiing with Zoricic and his father.
"I'm a mess, so I can only imagine how his family is. I'm so very sorry. Sending Love," she wrote.
The Canadian Olympic Committee also expressed sympathy over Zoricic's death.
"Nik was an inspiring example of the passion in sport so important to our national pride and identity," Marcel Aubut, president of the COC, said in a release.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and everyone in the ski and sport community during this difficult time," he said.
Television pictures showed Zoricic coming off a jump to the right and then tumble through the nets as his skis and poles were thrown clear.
The International Ski Federation cancelled the Saturday event as well as Sunday's World Cup race.
Zoricic has raced on the World Cup circuit for more than three years and was competing in his 36th event.
He placed eighth in the 2011 World Championships held at Deer Valley, Utah.
Zoricic is the second Canadian freestyle team member to die in a skiing accident this year.
In January, Winter X Games champion Sarah Burke died from her injuries nine days after crashing during training in Park City, Utah. She also was 29.