Severe injuries and the memory of Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke who was killed in a practice run in 2012 have raised questions about whether extreme sports have become too dangerous.
Some think including extreme sports in the Olympics may be placing athletes in too much danger.
In the months leading up to and during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, many extreme athletes have endured injuries, some of which could be considered career-threatening.
In some cases athletes have decided to leave the competition, but still others continue to challenge their bodies against the pain, not knowing when to quit.
Kaya Turski – A skier’s push for the podium of extreme sports
Canadian freestyle skier Kaya Turski is a former career roller-blader and seven-time ski champion in the Winter X Games. Throughout her sport career, she has battled multiple ACL tears that have affected both her knees.
During a training session last August she tore her ACL again, but because she had already used much of her hamstring tissue in previous reconstructive surgeries, she had to opt for an experimental solution. Her ACL was repaired using a synthetic ligament wrapped inside a cadaver graft, according to the Denver Post.
Despite the very short recovery period, her sight remained fixed on an Olympic medal. Turski recovered quickly enough to win her seventh X-Games competition just weeks before Sochi. And at just six months after surgery, Turski headed to Sochi to compete.
But her Olympic dream came to a sudden end as the world watched her crash twice during her qualifying runs on Feb. 11.
On her first run she separated her shoulder, but somehow finished the run, re-setting it herself along the way. On the second run, she fell on the final jump.
Turski told CTV that she had struggled during the morning practice and had lost confidence. As she stood up and skied toward the crowd after her second crash, she bowed her head and held her hands out to her sides.
During her rise and fall at Sochi, Kaya connected with her fans on Twitter and sent shout-outs to her teammates.
Extreme sports at Sochi 2014
The inclusion of extreme sports at the Sochi Olympics is the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) attempt to recoup a declining younger audience by bringing the feel of the X-Games into the Olympics.
Ski and snowboard slopestyle are two of the 12 new sports introduced this year, eight of which are considered extreme sports.
Extreme Sport Additions:
- Freestyle Snowboard Slopestyle,
- Freestyle Ski Slopestyle
- Snowboard Half-pipe
- Freestyle Ski Half-pipe
- Snow cross
- Ski cross
- Parallel Snowboard racing
The slopestyles have seen multiple injuries this year, and some athletes have enough self-restraint to realize the danger.
Shaun White of the United States — the world’s most famous snowboarder — pulled out of the slope style event after suffering a slight strain on his wrist during a practice run. He said he decided to pull out of the snowboarding slopestyle event because the course was dangerous.
White’s decision was not well-received by other competitors. Canadian Sebastian Toutant told NBC that slopestyle is an extreme sport, saying that if athletes come here and think there is no risk, they should go do something else.
Malin Dunfors is a guest writer for the official Olympic blog. According to Dunfors, certain action sports are contagious; they ‘push to new heights’ and garner a lot of international media attention. But the sad truth is that many extreme-sports also face extreme ends.
IOC bans symbols of Sarah Burke’s memory
The extreme ski community is still bouncing back from the death of Canadian skier Sarah Burke. Burke died two years ago after being injured on a routine training run in January 2012. She slipped into a coma shortly afterwards.
Burke had four-time X-Games championships, five World Cup victories, was winner of the 2005 world championships, and was fourth in the 2011 world championships.
During her career, Burke rallied continuously for freestyle skiing to be considered an Olympic sport. According to Maclean’s, she is one of the biggest reasons for why the sport is in the Olympics today.
The IOC welcomes extreme sports that improve viewership but the Committee doesn’t seem prepared to deal with the negative media attention death or injury brings.
The IOC banned athletes from wearing stickers in Burke’s honour at the Sochi games.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams told the Globe and Mail that the Olympics are a place of celebration and are not the right place to honour fallen athletes. Adams suggested the athletes hold a press conference or organize a commemoration for Burke in the Games’ Multi-Faith Centre.
Burke’s memory is a constant presence at the Games, said Canada’s halfpipe skier Mike Riddle.
“I ride with a Sarah sticker on my snowboard and helmet always,” Australian snowboarder Torah Bright wrote on Instagram.
“Sarah is a beautiful, talented, powerful woman, whose spirit inspires me still. She is a big reason why skier pipe/slope are now Olympic events.”