Why Sarah Burke’s Death Sucks

January 20, 2012

The death of Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke couldn’t have come at a worse time.

True, no time is a good time for the life of a 29-year old athlete in the prime of her career to be cut short. But this was really a bad time.

In just under a week, Winter X Games 16 will kick off in Aspen, Colorado as it does every year. Only this year, a pioneer of her sport will not be present to defend the title she won last year.

Burke was constantly pushing the limits for her sport, freestyle skiing. In addition to winning Winter X Games gold four times in the Women’s Ski Superpipe competition, she was the first woman to land a 1080-degree rotation in competition, proving that the women were as willing to increase the difficulty of tricks as the men. She was also a recipient of an ESPY award in 2007 for Best Female Action Sports Athlete.

However, what fans and other competitors in her sport will miss the most is her ability to help the sport grow. Burke was a leader behind the effort that prompted Olympic officials to include superpipe skiing in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

While her efforts were rewarded by Olympic officials, Burke’s death leaves some lingering issues. Are action sports such as superpipe skiing becoming too dangerous, where the only way to impress judges seems to be to push the envelope by attempting more difficult tricks? Burke is not the first action sports athlete to suffer such an injury; in 2009 professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a similar injury (on the same halfpipe) and is lucky to be alive.

Burke’s death comes at a critical time for her sport. Not everyone watches the Winter X Games, but most people do watch the Winter Olympics. Will people be turned off in 2014 to learn that new competition’s brightest star was killed during a simple training run? Action sports are dangerous in their very nature, but there is a line that action athletes have to be constantly aware of: what is dangerous, and what is reckless. More importantly, where do potential fans draw that line?

Just as superpipe skiing is entering into the mainstream, the face of the sport was taken away. Imagine what would have happened to snowboarding had Shaun White’s career been cut short, or to skateboarding had Tony Hawk been the victim of a freak accident.

The mountain for women’s superpipe skiing just got a lot steeper, and quite frankly that sucks. Action sports are fun to watch, and are a unique arena where the women can be just as entertaining as the men. Hopefully a tragic event such as this does not damage the sport to a point where it cannot recover.

Many of Burke’s competitors said that they looked up to her and saw her as an inspiration due to her work ethic and tenacity when lobbying to get both the Olympics and X Games to add more women’s skiing events.

Now more than ever, they will need to embody Sarah’s spirit and continue to push the sport forward. She paved the way for them, and the least they can do is give everything they have to build upon what she has started.

In 2010, the snowboarding community began to “Ride for Kevin”. There is no doubt that starting next week in Aspen, the action sports world will ski for Sarah.

Rest in Peace, Sarah Burke.

– K. Becks

6 Responses to Why Sarah Burke’s Death Sucks

  1. mancolepig on January 20, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Kyle this is one of your best articles I’ve ever read. I didn’t know anything about her, her talents, accomplishments, or efforts prior to this read, so I got a lot out of it. It is a shame that a woman breaking so much ground died so young and hopefully her efforts will not be taken for granted.

    • K. Becks on January 21, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      Thanks a lot; I really appreciate your comment. Quite honestly it couldn’t have come at a better time, either.

      I’m glad that you got something out of it, and I agree that her death is really a shame. Hopefully her competitors will be able to “carry the torch” and continue the work that she has started with regards to her sport.

  2. Borgkum on January 23, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    I think her being an American, and evidently a prominent one, will catalyze some sort of changes/actions. It seems that when something happens to an Amurican, we have to react swiftly and powerfully (form a committee, find something to blame, etc.), and someone is always willing to do this (politicians love the easy positive exposure). Hopefully they don’t overreact and limit the sport too much.

    • K. Becks on January 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm

      I agree with you; at the very least, the lingering questions about safety will surface very quickly whenever the subject of action sports are brought up.

      I believe that the sport’s inclusion into the 2014 Olympics is a very important stepping stone for progress. That being said, concerned Americans can only do so much. The only way I see the sport being “held back” would be if the IOC makes some sort of change.

      What happens after Sochi is what will ultimately dictate where women’s ski superpipe is heading. Hopefully it will only continue to grow in popularity.

  3. Borgkum on January 25, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    yeah because its like 800X more exciting than NASCAR

    • K. Becks on January 26, 2012 at 8:41 pm

      Hey now is that really necessary?

      I’ve broadened my racing interests anyway…

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