Grief and greatness mark historic year in sports 

Loss of athletes overshadows record accomplishments by national teams

click to flip through (5) REMEMBERING SARAH - Gordon Burke, the father of fallen freeskier Sarah Burke, shared memories of his daughter at her Celebration of Life in April.
  • REMEMBERING SARAH - Gordon Burke, the father of fallen freeskier Sarah Burke, shared memories of his daughter at her Celebration of Life in April.
 

In the years immediately before and after the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, one of the dominant stories and themes surrounding our national athletes were the injuries. Dozens of our top international athletes have been sidelined with various ailments, some for weeks, some with injuries so serious that the athletes have missed multiple seasons — or in the case of Whistler ski cross racers Julia Murray and Ashleigh McIvor, or world champion aerialist Warren Shouldice, the injuries helped force the difficult decision to retire while still at the top of their respective games.

2012 added two tragic exclamation points to the injury story with the loss of two great athletes. In January, halfpipe star and freeski legend Sarah Burke succumbed to the head injury she sustained during a halfpipe event hosted by one of her sponsors in Utah; in March, ski cross racer Nik Zoricic was killed after skiing off course into fencing that was ostensibly there to protect the athletes.

Burke's death reverberated far and wide, receiving international attention. Her life's story and her achievements outside of skiing — including her efforts to get ski halfpipe added to the Olympic schedule for 2014 — were every bit as compelling as her performances on the slopes. As a former coach and close friend commented, she was too good to be true.

As for Zoricic, he was an up-and-coming ski cross racer who was steadily gaining momentum in the sport he loved at the time of his death. The circumstances are still being investigated by the International Skiing Federation and Swiss authorities, but Alpine Canada, which sanctions ski cross in Canada, has already taken steps to make the sport safer by hosting a safety summit, talking to experts and sharing its work with the international community of race organizers. Zoricic's family played an active role, even threatening lawsuits at one point to ensure that a full investigation occurs and that safety is taken more seriously in the future. They are driven to ensure that what happened to Nik — who only skied slightly off course while attempting a pass at the finish line — won't happen again.

But if tragedy was the shadow hanging over 2012, then the podium was the light — and this past year Canadian athletes shone brighter than ever in so many ways and in so many different sports, making history at every turn.

In snow sports, Canada finished the season with several overall Crystal Globes on the World Cup circuit — Marielle Thompson in ski cross, Mikael Kingsbury in moguls, Olivier Rochon in aerials and Dominique Maltais in snowboardcross. As well, so many other athletes came close to titles, including Brady Leman in ski cross (second in the rankings), Maëlle Ricker in snowboardcross (second), Devon Kershaw in cross-country (second in distance and eighth overall), Justine Dufour-Lapointe in moguls (second) Kaillie Humphries in bobsleigh (third for women), among others.

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