Canada's Yurkiw joins long list of alpine injured

Canada's Larisa Yurkiw, who suffered suspected torn knee ligaments at Val d'Isere, France on Wednesday, is the latest alpine ski racer to be seriously injured this World Cup season.

On the same day World Cup athletes and officials tried to find a solution to the injury epidemic that has struck the sport of skiing, two more racers — one a Canadian — tore up their knees.

"It seems like it doesn't stop," Max Gartner, Alpine Canada's chief athletics officer, said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Val Gardena, Italy.

Gartner was a member of the coaches racing group that met with Guenther Hujara, the men's race director for the International Ski Federation (FIS), at the Italian ski resort. Earlier, Hujara talked with a group of six skiers, including Aksel Lund Svindal, the defending overall World Cup champion.

"It was a very productive meeting and we have set up a very good agenda," Hujara said.

Gartner said the meetings showed athletes, coaches and the FIS are taking the injury issue seriously. "There is a real awareness," he said. "Everybody wants solutions. That's the positive.

"I'm still concerned about how we are going to fix this in the short term."

'Little things'

Some immediate steps include scaling back some of the jumps on downhill courses and installing tear-away flags on the gates that skiers carve around.

"There are a bunch of little things you can do," Gartner said. "My personal feeling is there is a lot more needed to make it quite a bit safer."

One long-term proposal coming from the meetings was hiring an independent expert to analyze data and make suggestions on equipment changes and course management.

However, Gartner said, for this idea to work the person must understand ski racing but can't have ties to any one federation or the ski manufacturing industry.

"It has to be somebody that has a strong scientific background, that also knows racing and doesn't have his own agenda," he said. "The whole thing has to be on reducing injuries and what it takes.

"There has to be some tangible targets. If we just make a bunch of little changes, I don't think it's going to address the big issue."

Serious doubts

Brian Stemmle, the former Canadian downhill racer who almost died in a speculator 1989 fall at Kitzbuhel, Austria, has serious doubts the FIS would let a person have that much power.

"Good luck finding somebody to do that — who is an expert and will make a difference — because they won't listen to them," Stemmle said in an interview.

"They are just unwilling to change. It's always been like that. Until that changes, you won't see much else happening."

On Wednesday, Larisa Yurkiw, 21, of Owen Sound, Ont., suffered a suspected torn ACL and MCL in her knee after a fall in downhill training at Val d'Isere, France.

German's Tobias Stechert was taken to hospital in Munich for surgery after hurting his knee landing a jump in downhill training at Val Gardena.

Gartner said Alpine Canada wanted Yurkiw to ski at the Vancouver Olympics and use the experience for 2014.

Biggest stars sidelined

With the Games less than two months away, some of ski racing's biggest stars have been sidelined by injuries. It's as if the Super Bowl were happening and both teams were without their starting quarterbacks.

Calgary's John Kucera, who won the downhill gold medal at last winter's world championships, France's Jean-Baptiste Grange, the World Cup slalom champion, and Austria's Nicole Hosp, a former overall World Cup winner, will all miss the Olympics.

Kucera, a medal threat in both downhill and super-giant slalom, broke his leg in the opening World Cup super-G race of the season at Lake Louise, Alta., last month.

Yurkiw is the third Canadian in less than a month to be injured. Giant slalom specialist Jean-Philippe Roy of Ste-Flavie, Que., tore his knee Sunday in a World Cup race, also at Val d'Isere.

Gartner said the best way to reduce injuries is to change the equipment. Today's skis are shorter than in the past, and have a sidecut, which makes them narrow. This makes skis easier to turn and increases speed.

Gartner favours making skis longer and wider. He also said changes can be made to the boots, bindings and the way the racer stands on the skis.

"It's a complex situation that has a lot of different areas that need to be addressed," he said.

New rules regarding ski length and width were introduced two years ago.

"That change didn't make the athletes go any slower," Gartner said. "I think it's going to need more radical change."

Equipment changes costly

Changing equipment can be costly for ski manufacturers, who have struggled financially in recent years.

Stemmle, who will be a television commentator during the Games, said fatigue because of the number of races is a bigger problem.

"There are just too many races," he said. "[The skiers] are travelling too much, the guys are tired and a lot of them are all-around skiers now. I just think there are too many events."

Alberto Tomba, the retired Italian great, has suggested skiers go on strike.

Gartner doubts that will happen.

"I don't think they are going to be going on strike but I think they [racers] want some input."

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