Members of the Canadian ski cross team unveil a special tribute to teammate Nik Zoricic, who died after crashing at a World Cup event in March, at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary earlier this week. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)
For the first time since the tragic death of Canadian racer Nik Zoricic, ski cross returns to competition on the world stage this weekend. The World Cup picks up at Nakiska, Alta. in what is an exhilarating but at times, risky pursuit still in its' formative stages.
For the first time since the tragic death of Canadian racer Nik Zoricic, ski cross returns to competition on the world stage this weekend.
The World Cup picks up at Nakiska, Alta. in what is an exhilarating but at times, risky pursuit still in its' formative stages.
"It's an exciting sport and an attractive sport," muses Bebe Zoricic. "And when done properly it can be a safe sport."
Zoricic is a gentle soul and openly discusses the circumstances surrounding the loss of his son at a race in Grindelwald, Switzerland last March.
"Racers are out there to compete and to go fast," Bebe says. "They have to believe that someone is accountable for their safety."
So far pleas by the Zoricic family for an independent and transparent investigation by Swiss authorities and FIS -- the sport's governing body -- have gone almost completely unanswered. Just this week they received the police report from Grindelwald, but it was written in German and they have, as yet, been unable to determine its value.
Still, Bebe will make the trip to Nakiska to see the others race for the first time since Nik was killed.
He says he wouldn't miss it.
"I'm excited to go and see Nik's friends and to be there to support them as they race on the World Cup again."
Ski Cross made its Olympic debut at the 2010 Vancouver Games and the first gold medallist is a Canadian, Ashleigh McIvor, who will be broadcasting the event for CBC this weekend.
She understands that Nik Zoricic's death in Switzerland last March is a daunting reminder that sport can be a dangerous thing and that athletes as well as organizers must be vigilant when it comes to safety.
"It's very important to give these horrible occurrences the respect they deserve," McIvor said from her home in Whistler, B.C. "Nik is the first friend I've lost in Ski Cross and I pray he is the last. But you've got to keep pushing forward."
Honouring Nik Zoricic
To that end, the Canadian team will wear uniforms that reflect the blue jeans Nik once donned during an early competition. The entire Ski Cross tour has had a full eight months to consider his passing.
Alpine Canada and the officials who will run the World Cup races at Nakiska have made provisions for room in the finish line area so that the dangers Nik Zoricic faced will be minimized.
As an organization, Alpine Canada is a leader in athlete safety and is becoming increasingly frustrated by other powerful interests in the sport who are dragging their feet on this issue.
Bebe, himself a ski coach, will attend the upcoming event at Nakiska still searching for the reasons behind his son's death. But he is also convinced the sport has to move onwards.
"I was dearly hoping that you could be interviewing me about my athletes who have hopes of qualifying for Sochi," Bebe says to me. "I'm so sorry that this has to be about remembering Nik's death."
It is a heart-wrenching moment.
A parent who has lost a child doing something he loved. At the same time a coach who is inspired by sport and the magic it provides as well as the lessons it teaches.
Ashleigh McIvor summed it up best.
"When the first race comes around it's important to focus on the task at hand," she figured. "And not to dwell on the friend we've lost."
There is always something at stake in sport. There will forever be risks to take. It is, like it or not, part of the allure of high performance and ultimately, what drives human beings to compete.
At Nakiska, Ski Cross will take a major step in the process of its maturation. The course has been made safer. The untimely death of Nik Zoricic will have been respectfully remembered.
If only Bebe Zoricic and his family could get a little closure and someone to be accountable for the mistakes that were made, the oversights which compounded a tragic accident.
In the meantime, life on the field of play marches on.
What's on CBC Sports Weekend
Saturday on Sports Weekend three events dominate the day. Starting at 1 pm ET World Cup Cross Country Skiing returns to Canada with Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey and the Nordic Knights in action in Quebec City.
One hour later Michael Janyk leads the Canadian technical alpine skiers in a slalom race from Val d'Isere, France.
Then at 4 ET it's the ladies and pairs competition from the ISU Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating in the Olympic city of Sochi, Russia. Prime time coverage has World champions Patrick Chan as well as Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in the ice dance at 8 pm local time.
Sunday afternoon we'll have full coverage of the Ski Cross World Cup from Nakiska, Alta. featuring highly ranked Canadian Kelsey Serwa.
Scott brings vast experience, passion and knowledge to his role as host of CBC's Sports Weekend on CBC. A 20-year CBC Sports veteran, Russell has covered nine Olympic Games and co-hosted Olympic Morning for Beijing 2008: The Olympic Games. The Gemini-Award winning broadcaster and acclaimed author has also worked as a host and rinkside reporter on Hockey Night in Canada and has covered triathlon, gymnastics, rugby, cross-country skiing and biathlon at several Olympic Games, Pan Am Games and Commonwealth Games.