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Sarah Burke

January 20, 2012 by staff 

Sarah BurkeSarah Burke, The pioneering skier, tipped for a gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics, suffered brain damage in a crash at Park City, Utah, Sarah Burke, the Canadian skier who has died aged 29.   A pioneering freestyle skier set for Olympic glory has died from injuries sustained in a training accident.

The Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke was one of the greatest skiers of her generation, helping to bring freestyle skiing events to the Winter Olympics, and widely tipped to win a gold medal in the 2014 Games.

She suffered a serious accident on 11 January while training for the gravity-defying superpipe – an event that defined her career – at Park City in Utah. Her injuries were severe, with tests revealing that the skier had suffered “irreversible damage to her brain”, a family spokeswoman said.

As a result of the fall the 29-year-old tore her vertebral artery, leading to severe bleeding on the brain. Her heart stopped, and despite CPR being administered at the scene, she was left with irreversible brain damage. She died, surrounded by her family and loved ones, on Thursday at the University of Utah hospital.

“Sarah passed away peacefully surrounded by those she loved. In accordance with Sarah’s wishes, her organs and tissues were donated to save the lives of others,” the family spokeswoman Iris Yen said in a written statement.

Peter Judge, chief executive of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, praised the impact Burke had made on the ski community. “Our hearts go out to Sarah’s husband Rory and her entire family. It’s difficult for us to imagine their pain and what they’re going through,” he said in a statement. “Sarah was certainly someone who lived life to the fullest and in doing so was a significant example to our community and far beyond,” Judge said. “She will be greatly missed by all of us at the CFSA and the entire ski community.”

Burke was the best-known athlete in her field, specialising in the extreme superpipe – a version of a traditional halfpipe with walls over five metres (16ft) high. Named female action sports athlete of the year by the TV network ESPN in 2007, and four-time Winter X Games champion, she also won five World Cups and a world championship and was credited for helping add the women’s ski halfpipe to the programme for Sochi 2014.

Before she died, Judge said, she had defined her sport. “She’s been involved since the very, very early days as one of the first people to bring skis into the pipe,” he said. “She’s also been very dedicated in trying to define her sport but not define herself by winning. For her, it’s been about making herself the best she can be rather than comparing herself to other people.”

On the National Post website Joe O’Connor paid tribute to the star. “Her death stings, because it is unfair, because Sarah Burke was too young and too smart and too pretty and too warm and too well-liked and too remarkable, as an athlete, to leave us so soon,” he wrote.

The death is likely to raise questions about the safety of the sport. Burke crashed on the same superpipe where the snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury during a training accident in late 2009. Supporters defend the safety record of the superpipe and other freestyle events, which require mandatory helmet use, air bags on the sides of pipes during practice and better pipe-building technology. “There are inherent risks in everything,” said Judge before her death. “Freestyle is a very safe sport in large part because we had to build a safe sport in order to get into the Olympics.”

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