Road To The Olympic Games


Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke in coma

Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke was reportedly in a coma Tuesday after crashing during a training run on the superpipe in Park City, Utah.
Sarah Burke of Squamish, B.C., shown here during the FIS halfpipe final on Dec. 9, was airlifted to a Salt Lake City hospital on Tuesday. (Mike Ridewood/Canadian Press)

Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke was in a coma after suffering a serious injury while training on a superpipe Tuesday.

Burke, a halfpipe pioneer who lobbied tirelessly to get her sport included in the Winter Olympics, was airlifted from Park City, Utah to a Salt Lake City hospital after crashing at the end of a training run.

Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, said sources had told him Burke was in a coma while a spokeswoman at University Hospital in Salt Lake confirmed Burke had been admitted and was being evaluated.

Burke was training with a private group ahead of the Winter X Games when the accident occurred.

"We know that she had landed a trick in the pipe and had landed at the bottom of the pipe and kind of hit on her feet, so she landed, and then bounced onto her feet, head kind of thing," Judge told The Canadian Press. "Apparently from what we heard it didn't look like it was that kind of severe a fall, but obviously she must have just hit in the right way."

Andy Miller, spokesman at the Park City Mountain Resort, said the accident happened early in the afternoon.

Risk part of the sport

On the day her sport finally gained Olympic status last year, Canadian freestyle skier and halfpipe pioneer Sarah Burke also discussed the dangers accompanied with the discipline.

Burke, who is in a coma after suffering an injury while training on a superpipe Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Utah, spoke with CBC reporter Teddy Katz during a wide-ranging interview on April 5, 2011, including the risks freestyle skiers take, and the gratification from the news that skiing halfpipe would be part of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"Everything that you see has been well calculated, but it’s always risky and it’s a tough sport on the body," admitted Burke.

"You’re going to take a lot of crashes learning and perfecting things. That’s something that you kind of know as you go into it."

A four-time superpipe Winter X Games champion and 2005 halfpipe world gold medallist, Burke played a major role in getting halfpipe added to the 2014 Winter Games.

Born in Midland, Ont., Burke, who now resides in Whistler, B.C., has been considered one of the gold-medal favourites for Sochi.

After years of frustrations, she was elated when she received the news her sport would be part of the Olympic program.

"We’ve been fighting for years [and] it’s not been an easy road," said Burke. "It feels way better than I thought to hear the final vote. As much as we could’ve prepared for it, it’s all very thrilling.

"I woke up checking my phone a lot and keeping my fingers crossed. I knew it was looking good but you feel a little nervous. But finally when we heard that it was in, [I] was jumping for joy."

— Tony Care

"She was stabilized there at the scene by resort mountain patrol, who took her to base patrol, where she was flown to the hospital in Salt Lake," Miller said.

He said the halfpipe was the same one where snowboarder Kevin Pearce was critically injured during training on Dec. 31, 2009. Pearce suffered traumatic brain injuries but has since recovered and returned to riding on snow last month.

Burke's husband, Rory Bushfield, also put out a message on Twitter seeking someone with a private jet who might help him and Burke's mother expedite a trip from Vancouver to Salt Lake City.

On the Internet, well-wishers flooded Burke's Facebook page or posted on Twitter, wishing her a speedy recovery.

"(at)sarah--j--burke - I love you, I'm thinking about, I'm even praying for you," posted Montreal freestyle skier Maude Raymond on her Twitter account.

Canadian snowboarder Spencer O'Brien posted: "Hoping and praying the best for (at)sarah--j--burke."

"(at)sarah--j--burke You are strong, please pull through! We all love you and are thinking of you!" posted American superpipe skier Angeli VanLaanen.

Burke was born Barrie, Ont., and grew up in nearby Midland before moving to Squamish, B.C. She's a four-time Winter X Games champion in skiing superpipe -- a replica of snowboarding's halfpipe on skis. She lobbied aggressively to have the discipline included in the Olympics and was considered one of the top women's voices in the action sport's scene.

With the help of her lobbying, skiing halfpipe will make its debut at the Sochi Games in 2014.

A few weeks before the 2010 Olympics, while she was still struggling to get her sport included, Burke conceded in an interview with The Associated Press that it was frustrating to be on the outside looking in.

"I think we're all doing this, first off, because we love it and want to be the best," Burke said. "But I also think it would've been a great opportunity, huge for myself and for skiing and for everyone, if we could've gotten into the Olympics. It's sad. I mean, I'm super lucky to be where I am, but that would've been pretty awesome."

Judge called the 29-year-old's impact on the sport "significant."

"Sarah means so many things on so many levels," he said. "She's been a pioneer. She's was really one of the people that started out and led the sport in its very infancy and she rose to prominence very quickly and continued to ride that wave from the standpoint of trying to push the boundaries of the sport."

If healthy, Burke is expected to contend for a gold medal at Sochi.

"Hopefully we'll get through the other end of this and hopefully she'll still have the opportunity," said Judge.

Burke was named the Best Female Action Sports Athlete by U.S. sports network ESPN in 2007.

Burke missed significant time in 2009 when she landed awkwardly and broke a vertebrae in her lower back. Since healing, she has returned to the top of her game and was scheduled to defend her title at the Winter X Games later this month in Aspen.

"[Sarah] continued to stay psychologically motivated and by challenging herself and staying out on the outer edge of her sport and I think that's what helps her stay relevant as long as she has," said Judge.

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