Canada's Nik Zoricic dies after skicross crash

By Graham Dunbar

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 10 2012 2:06 p.m. MST

GENEVA — A Canadian racer died in a World Cup skicross event Saturday, tumbling through safety nets in what ski authorities called a "freak accident." It was the second death in less than two months of a freestyle skier from Canada.

Nik Zoricic died from head injuries when he crashed directly into the nets lining the side of the course after going wide over the final jump. As he went through the nets, his skis and poles were thrown clear.

In skicross, four racers jostle for an edge down a course of banks, rolls and ridges.

Max Gartner, president of Alpine Canada, said he was satisfied with the safety precautions in place for a sport sometimes described as "NASCAR on skis."

"We're pretty confident that this was a World Cup race and there's lots of rules and regulations, and inspectors on site," he said.

Gartner, speaking during a conference call from Toronto, said: "I would say it's a freak accident, from here. It doesn't happen often, but it's devastating. We look at all our athletes as members of our family, so it's hard."

Zoricic died exactly two months after Winter X Games champion Sarah Burke crashed during halfpipe training in Park City, Utah. Burke died from her injuries nine days later. She was also 29.

Zoricic's death will continue a debate on safety in skiing, particularly in the relatively new disciplines of freestyle skiing. International Ski Federation secretary general Sarah Lewis said Zoricic's death had been "a terrible, tragic accident."

"All the safety measures were in place," Lewis told The Associated Press by telephone from Grindelwald, a regular venue on the skicross international circuit.

Zoricic was treated by doctors before being airlifted to a hospital at Interlaken. He was pronounced dead as a result of "severe neurotrauma," the ski federation said in a statement.

"Nik Zoricic fell heavily just before the finish in the round of eight, crashing directly into the safety netting and thereafter lying motionless," the federation said. The governing body will work with Swiss ski officials to analyze the crash and course security. An investigation will be conducted by legal officers from Bern.

"There will be plenty of discussions from all the experts on the technical side and coaches, and any improvements people feel are right to make, will be made," Lewis said

Gartner, when asked about the Grindelwald course setting, said "lots of races" place a jump close to the finish line.

Zoricic raced on the World Cup circuit for more than three years and was competing in his 36th event Saturday. He placed fifth in last season's World Cup standings, and eighth in the 2011 World Championships held at Deer Valley, Utah.

Zoricic's teammate Ashleigh McIvor won gold for the host nation when it debuted as an Olympic sport at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

"It's probably just as safe doing our sport as driving down the highway," McIvor said in a conference call. "I don't think the finger should be pointed at any of the organization."

Lewis acknowledged the potential danger in skicross, calling it "a high-risk sport."

"Any sport where you put on a helmet, there is a reason for it," Lewis said. "This was a World Cup competition where they were racing for positions. It was about trying to go as fast as possible."

Zoricic had raced the course in training on Wednesday and qualifying rounds on Friday, and took an additional practice run on Saturday morning.

"They have an opportunity to accustom themselves to the speed, to see if it is different to yesterday," Lewis said.

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