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Canada's Nik Zoricic dies after skicross crash

By Graham Dunbar

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 10 2012 2:11 p.m. MST

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

Lewis acknowledged that skicross was "a high-risk sport."

"Any sport where you put on a helmet, there is a reason for it," she 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.

Organizers abandoned Saturday's World Cup events for men and women, and the scheduled World Cup Finals races at the same course on Sunday.

Grindelwald has been a venue on the skicross World Cup circuit since 2005. The Swiss village beneath the Eiger and Jungfrau mountain peaks was hosting a meeting for the fifth straight year.

"We are all very sad. It is unbelievable for us all," Christoph Egger, president of the race organizing committee, told The AP by telephone. "We are an experienced organizer but, nevertheless, skicross is a sport where four racers fight to win a race. In these circumstances there is a risk to fall or risk of injury, and since today we know there is a risk for death."

It was a "surprise" to see Zoricic's line of flight off the jump, Egger said, adding that: "We put the fences there because you have to protect the racers for the finish area."

Egger said that "normal process" following a fatality would be an investigation by canton (state) attorney-at-law office.

According to Gartner, Zoricic was "a model athlete" who began in Alpine racing before switching to skicross.

"He's an extremely dedicated, quiet young man who has gone about his business and found his home in skicross. It was a pleasure to work with him and know him," Gartner said.

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.

He was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, one year before the city hosted the 1984 Winter Games as part of the former Yugoslavia.

Aged five, he moved to Canada where his father, Bebe, became an established Alpine coach at the Craigleith Ski Club in Ontario.

Canadian Alpine racer Kelly VanderBeek posted on Twitter 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.

Canadian former Alpine racer Brian Stemmle tweeted: "I can't believe this tragic news. Nick Zoricic has died? I'm sick to my stomach."

United States racer Ted Ligety also posted a message of condolence for Zoricic on Twitter soon after winning an Alpine World Cup giant slalom race in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.

"Skiing is a great sport that gives but it also takes, sad day to lose Nick Zoricic, you'll be missed bud," Ligety wrote.

Organizers at Grindelwald helped provide grief counselors for the Canadian team, who were holding a candlelit memorial service for Zoricic in the course finish area on Saturday evening.

"The skicross team is a very tight-knit group," Gartner said. "There is going to be a very intimate ceremony. I think the focus should stay on grieving for Nik and his family."

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