So many sports have upped the ante in the past 10 years- whether it be attempting to rotate more times in the air, jump higher, run faster, or to conquer more challenging terrain- but what does that mean for the athletes in regards to their ability to assess risk. Yes, taking these giant risks can result in huge payoffs, rewards, and a great deal of success, but what happens when things don’t go as planned or flukey accidents happen.
As I write this post I am thinking of the Canadian Olympic hopeful in ski half pipe, Sarah Burke who was severely injured in a training accident at the Park City super pipe last Tuesday. A week later she still lies in a medically induced coma in critical condition at the University of Utah hospital. Ski half pipe was set to make its debut at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia and Sarah had been a key figure in fighting for it to be named an Olympic sport. Now it is looking unlikely that she will be able to compete at these games- while her prognosis remains to be seen- news articles and interviews with team leaders and doctors have hinted that it is not looking good.
I personally have been following the story every day, waiting for an update on her condition because it is such a horrible situation for the whole ski community, Sarah’s family and all those athletes whom she has inspired. The really crazy part of the whole thing is that she crashed in the exact same super pipe in Park City that Kevin Pearce suffered his career ending brain injury on his snowboard only about a month before he was expected to make a run for a medal at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.
In regards to assessment, who is it that makes the assessment as to whether or not an event, sport or trick is too risky to be considered safe? I understand that it is completely up to an athlete to determine whether or not they think that a risk is worth taking, but who is it that assists an athlete in making this decision. The USOC and committees of sport science experts have spent hours evaluating the courses (half pipe, bobsled, track, ice surfaces) for Olympic athletes to train and compete on but despite their evaluations and assessments that they are safe- accidents like Sarah’s, Kevin’s and the Georgian bobsledder still seem to occur at a frequency that I hate to hear.
Maybe we need to develop a new assessment of risk for some of these extreme sports?