Sarah Burke, a freestyle skiing pioneer and advocate, has been placed in a medically induced coma and is in critical condition after crashing in the 22-foot halfpipe during training in Park City, Utah.
A four-time X Games champion and 2014 Olympics favorite, Burke landed after a maneuver, then fell and struck her head, according to a Toronto Globe and Mail report, Burke, 29, is a member of the Canadian national halfpipe team and lives in Squamish, B.C.
See update: Burke has surgery
“What I've heard, relatively directly, is that she landed a trick down in the bottom end of the pipe, and kind of bounced, from her feet to her head,” Peter Judge, chief executive officer of the Canadian freestyle team, told the Globe and Mail. “It wasn't anything that looked like a catastrophic fall, so I'm a bit mystified.”
Kevin Pearce, an Olympic snowboarding medalist, suffered a traumatic brain injury when he struck his head in a fall on the same course in 2009. After two years of intense therapy, he took his first ride on a snowboard in December, but his injuries prompted debate about the dangers of winter sports. Halfpipe courses, with their high walls and steep, slick surfaces are particularly dangerous, as is the luge. Nodar Kumaritashvili, a Georgian luge slider, died after colliding with a metal pole during a training run in the Vancouver Olympics.
Burke is no stranger to injury on the course; she broke a bone in her back when she landed awkwardly in 2009. She addrssed the risks of her sport in a “Good Morning America” interview two years ago.
“You wear helmets. You wear padding. You do what you have to do,” she said, “but you learn how to handle it.”
Burke’s family is with her, after her husband, freestyle skier Rory Bushfield, put out a plea on Twitter for transportation to Salt Lake City late Tuesday night.
“Sarah is a very strong young woman.” Bushfield said in a statement released by the Canadian Freestyle Skiing Association, “and she will most certainly fight to recover.”
Burke was instrumental in getting the women’s superpipe added to the X Games and is a four-time champion. She also played a significant role in getting superpipe added to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and was expected to be a gold-medal contender.
“Sarah in many ways defines the sport. She’s been involved since the early days, in getting into the pipe,” Judge said. “She has also been more than willing to be part of the grassroots development.”