Trick snowmobiler Caleb Moore died today of traumatic injuries sustained at an X Games snowmobile freestyle event a week ago. Despite walking off the course, after an ill-fated back flip in which his 450 pound machine landed on top of him, he succumbed to heart and brain trauma.
His death has renewed debate about the dangers of these X Games sports, many of which have been embraced by the International Olympic Committee in its Winter Games schedule.
X Games sports involving snowboarders and skiers confronting the 22’ monster halfpipe, as well as fighting for first along treacherous “cross” race courses, are now lucrative components of the Winter Olympics landscape.
These extreme athletes want the opportunity to showcase their life-threatening acts on the world stage. And the IOC executives and corporate sponsors are most welcoming.
Fortunately, to date, no one has died in an actual Winter Olympics competition. Yet, several have died during training and competition runs. (Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia died while training, just hours before the opening ceremonies at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.)
Yet, elite snowboarders and skiers, with goals of competing on this international stage, have sustained traumatic injuries, some of which, fatal.
The pioneer ski halfpiper Sarah Burke of Canada died of severe brain injuries from an accident during a practice run on a superpipe last January.
Fellow superpipe extremist and Vancouver Olympics gold medalist Torah Bright said at the time, “We all know this industry is dangerous and what we do has consequences. But when a death happens that close to you… it shook me to my core, it shook the industry to the core,” in an Australia News article.
American Kevin Pearce, whose life is featured in the emotionally stirring “The Crash Reel” movie, is still recovering from severe brain trauma stemming from a snowboard superpipe training run in the run-up to the Vancouver Olympics in December, 2009.
Two other world-class “cross” athletes died during international competitions. Sweden’s Jonathan Johansson died just one month after finishing twelfth at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics. While training for an FIS World Cup snowboardcross event at Lake Placid, NY in March 2006, he catapulted off of a jump and landed on his back, well off the steep course. Due to this jarring landing, he punctured his aorta and died on the way to the hospital.
Just last March, Canada’s Nic Zoricic careened off a challenging FIS World Cup skicross course into safety netting, that still did not prevent “severe neurotrauma” to his brain. He was pronounced dead soon afterwards.
Within an AP wire story, “Any sport where you put on a helmet, there is a reason for it. This was a World Cup competition where they were racing for positions. It was about trying to go as fast as possible,” said Sarah Lewis, a secretary general for the FIS organization – which partners with the IOC in orchestrating these Winter Olympic sports.
To its credit, the IOC and FIS have been reviewing these incidents and plan to instill greater safety at these events at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
Yet, the daredevil, no-holds-barred mentality of these athletes is difficult to rein in. Pushing the limits is in their blood, and that drive may very well leave a stain on future Winter Olympic Games.
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