US & Canada

Canada freestyle skier Sarah Burke dies

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Media captionPeter Judge, Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, on Sarah Burke's death. Ski footage courtesy The Ski Channel

Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke has died from injuries sustained in a training accident.

Burke, 29, helped bring freestyle skiing events to the Winter Olympics, and was considered a gold medal contender for the 2014 Games.

She was injured in a superpipe accident at Park City in the US state of Utah on 11 January.

Tests showed the freestyle skier had sustained "irreversible damage to her brain", a family spokeswoman said.

'Defining skier'

Image caption Sarah Burke helped to raise the profile of freestyle skiing into the Olympic Games

Burke, the four-time Winter X Games champion, crashed on the same superpipe where snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury during a training accident in late 2009.

The best-known athlete in her sport, Burke specialised in skiing the superpipe - a version of a traditional halfpipe with walls over 5m (16ft) high.

"Sarah, in many ways, defines the sport,'' Peter Judge, chief executive of Canada's freestyle team, said before she died.

"She's been involved since the very, very early days as one of the first people to bring skis into the pipe."

"She's also been very dedicated in trying to define her sport but not define herself by winning. For her, it's been about making herself the best she can be rather than comparing herself to other people.''

'Inherent risks'

A native of Midland, Ontario, Burke won was named female action sports athlete of the year by TV network ESPN in 2007.

Burke tore her vertebral artery as a result of the fall, which led to severe bleeding on the brain. That caused her to go into cardiac arrest on the scene, where CPR was performed.

"The family expresses their heartfelt gratitude for the international outpouring of support they have received from all the people Sarah touched,'' Nicole Wool, her spokeswoman said.

Burke's organs and tissues were donated as per her wishes.

The sport's leaders defend the safety record of the superpipe and other freestyle events, pointing to requirements for mandatory helmet use, air bags on the sides of pipes during practice and better pipe-building technology.

"There are inherent risks in everything,'' Mr Judge said prior to her death.

"Freestyle is a very safe sport in large part because we had to build a safe sport in order to get into the Olympics.''

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