PrintPrint

Zoricic's family blames death on 'stunning negligence'

The Canadian Press

4/25/2012 3:03:54 PM

TORONTO -- Stunning negligence in course design and safety features led to the "entirely avoidable" death of a Canadian skicross racer at a World Cup event in Switzerland last month, his family argued Wednesday.

In calling for a thorough, independent inquiry into the death of Nik Zoricic, his family disputed the official position that he was killed in a "freak" accident.

"The finish line was a death trap," family lawyer Tim Danson said.

"It is unacceptable that an elite athlete like Nik Zoricic can make a perfect landing, barely miss the finish line by one metre, and be killed for it."

Citing four reliable sources, Danson alleged that race authorities had been warned beforehand that the course was unsafe. No one did anything, he said.

"These concerns were apparently ignored," Danson said. "As a result, Nik is dead."

In skicross, several racers hurtle down a mountain at the same time, making jumps and taking slight curves on the way.

Zoricic, 29, who grew up in Toronto, had raced on the World Cup circuit for more than three years and was competing in his 36th event in Grindelwald. He was killed at the finish line of a tight three-way race.

A frame-by-frame video shows he was doing about 80 or 90 km/h when he veered to the right after the final jump. He appeared to nail his landing about a metre to the right of the official course line.

However, he touched down in a what skiers call "crud" just off the course rather than on a groomed shoulder, snagged safety netting, and tumbled into hard-packed snow, smashing his head.

His father Bebe Zoricic, a veteran ski coach, said the poor design of the finish steered skiers to the right, the safety netting was of the wrong type, there was no "spill zone" and the mound of cement-like snow should not have been there.

The family said it had no plans for legal action provided a proper inquiry is done, saying the aim is to avoid a repeat of the tragedy.

"It is devastating to look at this," the racer's mother Silvia Zoricic said. "Every cell in my body hurts, but knowing that this could have been avoided makes it into an agony."

The family did express dismay that no one from the International Ski Federation -- known as FIS -- had contacted them to offer any form of condolence.

Sarah Lewis, secretary general of the federation, said the organization has tried to follow procedure in terms of respecting an investigation by Swiss police and other authorities.

"The authorities are evaluating the situation and then they will give their verdict on what has happened," Lewis said.

Preliminary results of the probes would likely come next month or in June, the federation said.

Lewis also said the federation had "of course" sent its sympathies to the family by asking Alpine Canada, the sport's national governing body, to pass them on.

"Whether or not that happened in the course of all the hundreds and thousands of notes they received, it is difficult to know."

The federation has previously labelled the crash a "terrible, tragic accident."

It said race organizers were experienced and the venue and course were well established on the World Cup circuit but a formal safety review of freestyle skiing was in the works.

Danson said the sources -- he would not say if they were Canadian -- were afraid to come forward for fear of ruining their own careers, but said an open inquiry would allow them to tell their stories without fear of reprisals.

In a statement from Calgary, Alpine Canada president Max Gartner said it shared the family's desire to learn from the accident, adding Swiss police and state authorities were probing the tragedy.

He said Alpine Canada was working with the FIS to try to prevent similar accidents and would actively participate in the FIS skicross advisory group that will be reviewing skicross rules, specifications and processes.

Danson said the lack of answers from Switzerland has raised "red flags."

"No other course would ever be designed this way," Danson said.