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Hospitalized freestyle skier Sarah Burke helped pioneer her sport

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 11 2012 7:27 p.m. MST

Sarah Burke poses with her gold medal at Winter X Games 13 in 2009. She was critically injured in Utah on Tuesday.

Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

<p>SALT LAKE CITY — Before it was even a "real" sport, Sarah Burke was cutting up half pipes on her skis.

And while the defending World Cup, Winter X Games and Euro X Games champion was prolific in her success once skiers secured their own superpipe events, Burke, who remains in a medically induced coma and in critical condition at University of Utah Medical Center after an accident while training at Park City Mountain Resort on Tuesday, was always focused on more than winning.

"In many ways, Sarah defines the sport," said Canadian Freestyle Ski Association CEO Peter Judge during a conference call Wednesday afternoon. "She was one of the first people to get into the pipe and bring skis to the pipe. She's always been very dedicated in trying to define her sport, and it's never been about just winning. It's been about pushing the limits. She's always been more concerned about making herself the best, rather than comparing herself to other people."

While Snowboard halfpipe, which is now superpipe (a bigger pipe with longer takeoff and landing zones) debuted in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, ski superpipe was only sanctioned by the IOC last spring. It will make its first appearance in an Olympic Games in 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Judge said Burke, 29, was thrilled, as it was a childhood dream to represent her country in the Olympics.

"She was very excited," he said. "And it's our hope that she will make a full recovery and be able to compete in 2014."

Burke's spokesman Nicole Wool said the skier's family, including her husband Rory Bushfield, were by her side in Salt Lake City and grateful for the love and support she's received.

"Sarah is a very strong young woman and she will most certainly fight to recover," said Rory.

Sarah's family has asked that fans and media respect their privacy during this difficult time. Sarah's friends and fans are encouraged to post their well wishes on Sarah's Facebook page. Athletes from around the world, as well as freestyle fans, left messages of love and hope on her page, including Olympic gold medalist Alexandre Bilodeau, who became the first Canadian to win gold in a Winter Olympics in Canada when he won the mogul competition in Vancouver in 2010.

Judge said Burke was more than just a veteran athlete in an emerging sport.

"Most importantly, she was a very eloquent spokesman," said Judge. "She continued to always be out and speak well for her sport and represent it well. And as an athlete, that's the most important thing. She was always an exemplary in that role."

He admitted that it is devastating to her teammates, as well as other freestyle skiers around the world, as the group has worked hard together to raise the profile of the ski superpipe.

"In any sport, but especially one as tight-knit as this one, there have been lots of prayers," Judge said. "It has the effect of making everyone aware of how safety is important."

Judge rejected the notion that superpipe was any more dangerous than any other sport.

"There are inherent risks in anything, in all sports," he said. "Certainly freestyle as one of the greatest safety records. You have to build a safe sport in order to get into the games."

He said Canadian Team officials had "no concerns about the venue at all" and confirmed that the superpipe at PCMR is "fully accredited."

Burke won the Winter Dew Tour in 2010 at Snowbasin and spoke with the Deseret News about how the skiers were hoping for more competition opportunities, especially for women.

"This is the only stop for women," she said at the time. "(The Dew Tour) is good for the guys because they have three stops. This year they're only including us in one stop; it's kind of unfortunate."

In addition to pushing for more opportunities for women, she was also a mentor to younger athletes in the sport.

"What defines Sarah now is what has always defined her," said Judge. "She was always a very gregarious, very outgoing and popular with those around her. She was very giving in terms of her time, especially in the sport."

Email: adonaldson@desnews.com Twitter:@adonsports

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