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Amateur sportsSport needs to draw the line as casualties mount

Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 | 11:42 PM

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The casualties are mounting and sport is facing its greatest crisis.

How much risk is too much, and at what price is "Higher, Faster, Stronger," too dear?

Think of it.  

In the space of a year, Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luger, lost his life at the Olympics. Then Austrian skier Hans Grugger lost control at the famed downhill ski course in Kitzbuhel and spent weeks in a coma. 
grugger-584.jpg
Hans Grugger underwent brain surgery after his horrific crash at Kitzbuehel. (Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press)

The casualties are mounting and sport is facing its greatest crisis.

How much risk is too much, and at what price is "Higher, Faster, Stronger," too dear?

Think of it.  

In the space of a year, Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luger, lost his life at the Olympics. Then Austrian skier Hans Grugger lost control at the famed downhill ski course in Kitzbuhel and spent weeks in a coma. 

Now, Sidney Crosby, the bread and butter of the National Hockey League, languishes because of post-concussion syndrome. Lindsey Vonn, one of the world's most recognizable female athletes, has pulled out of the world alpine ski championships because she too is struggling with a concussion.

The unknown quantity

Where is the tipping point between what is acceptable in the pursuit of high-performance sport and reckless disregard for an athlete's well being?

"It's the unknown," says Brian Stemmle, who spent 14 years on the Canadian alpine ski team. "Is the athlete going to win or crash and burn? That's why I watch. Risk makes it extremely exciting because you have so much to lose."

Ironically, Stemmle nearly lost his life in a sickening 1989 crash at Kitzbuhel. He lingered for three critical months in hospital with a broken pelvis and massive internal injuries. But he recovered and competed at three more Olympics. Still, it was a journey that came with a high price.

"My life almost ended because I made a mistake in a place where safety wasn't up to standard," Stemmle recounted. "As a parent, I wouldn't want to go through what my parents had to endure."

That's why sport on every level has to protect its assets -- its athletes -- in order to ensure long-term survival.

Therefore, all competitions must meet safety standards. Intentional hits to the head must be abolished. Those not qualified to compete shouldn't. Officials need to enforce the rules.

"Safety for the athletes needs to be the number one concern," Stemmle figures. "We also need educated people looking out for us. Doctors, coaches, trainers and therapists need to mitigate injuries by taking precautions. You can't let an athlete compete who isn't 100 per cent."

And you can't let sport become a death-defying game where the laws of the jungle apply.

There's a thin line between risky business and playing it safe. Somehow sport has to find it and draw it clearly on the field of play.


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