Canadian freestyler Nick Zoricic’s death in a freak fall at last week’s World Cup ski cross finale in Switzerland was yet another sobering reminder of the danger inherent in any sport combining snow and speed.
Zoricic, who crashed into the net just before the finish and died from severe neurotrauma, was no rookie. He’d been eighth at last year’s world championships and was competing in his 36th Cup event. All it took to kill him was going wide over the final jump.
“Any sport where you put on a helmet there is a reason for it,’’ said international ski federation secretary general Sarah Lewis, who called Zoricic’s death “a terrible, tragic accident.’’
It was the second fatality in two months for the Canadian team, which lost Sarah Burke after a Jan. 10 halfpipe accident in Park City. It also came on the same day that Olympic snowboard champion Hannah Teter ended up in the hospital with a concussion after crashing at the US Open at Stratton Mountain, Vt.
A super run
After clinching her fourth World Cup overall title, Lindsey Vonn figures to add a fourth straight super G trophy to her downhill crown at this week’s World Cup finale in Austria and has a slim chance at the giant slalom. The men’s title still is up for grabs among Swiss leader Beat Feuz, Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, and Croatian defender Ivica Kostelic, recently back from knee surgery. Ted Ligety, who won in Slovenia last weekend, has a chance of winning his third straight giant slalom globe.
Besides Shani Davis’s triumph in the 1,000 meters, which gave him the season’s title at the distance, the US speedskaters got a silver in the 1,000 from Heather Richardson and bronzes from Jonathan Kuck in the 5,000 and in the men’s pursuit at last week’s World Cup finale in Berlin. If form holds, they should do at least that well at next week’s world single-distance championships in the Netherlands.
Even with star Katherine Reutter absent after hip surgery the US women’s short-trackers got a medal at last week’s world championships in Shanghai as Lana Gehring won bronze in the 500 meters, the first podium in the event since Bonnie Blair won in 1986. Though the Korean men won their 10th title in 11 years behind Kwak Yoon Gy, the Chinese women reclaimed their crown from their Korean counterparts with Li Jianrou.
The US women haven’t done much in Nordic skiing over the decades but they could win a couple of gold medals two winters from now in Sochi. Kikkan Randall last week clinched the World Cup sprint crown in cross-country, the first title by an American since Bill Koch in 1982, and 17-year-old Sarah Hendrickson dominated the initial World Cup jumping circuit, winning nine of 13 events.
The best US effort at the world biathlon championships in Germany came not from the men but from the unheralded women, as Dartmouth grad Susan Dunklee came out of nowhere to place fifth in the 15-kilometer event, missing the podium by only seven seconds in a 43-minute race. “I won’t complain next time I end up with Bib 1,’’ proclaimed Dunklee, who was irked about starting first. While the Norwegians won the most golds (four), the French topped the medal table with eight, thanks to three victories from Martin Fourcade, who also anchored his mates to a relay silver.
Bryan Fletcher, who’d never made a World Cup podium, vaulted to the top of it at last weekend’s Nordic combined finale at the storied Holmenkollen in Oslo. It was the second medal of the season for the Americans, who got a bronze from Bill Demong last month.
Hamilton case review
With the eight-year window for stripping drugged athletes of their medals running out in August, the International Olympic Committee has asked the US Anti-Doping Agency for documents in the case of Marblehead cyclist Tyler Hamilton. The Russians have been pushing to have the retired Vyacheslav Ekimov declared the 2004 time trial champion after Hamilton later admitted to doping and returned his gold medal. If the IOC goes along, Hamilton’s teammate, Bobby Julich, would be upgraded to silver . . . How did Gil Hanse beat out brand-name designers like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Greg Norman, and Robert Trent JonesJr., for the right to design Rio de Janeiro’s course for 2016 when the sport rejoins the Olympic program after a 112-year absence? Because he did precisely what the organizing committee asked, proposing a layout that conforms to the site’s building limitations, is environmentally sustainable, and can be used by both tour pros during the Games and by amateurs as part of the plan to develop the sport in Brazil. Hanse, who designed Boston Golf Club in Hingham, earned $300,000 for his work . . . If the US women’s soccer team hopes to win a third straight gold medal in London, it’ll have to figure out a way to get the ball away from the Japanese, who beat the Yanks, 1-0, in the semifinals of the Algarve Cup in Portugal. “They should be role models for the world, the way they play,’’ coach Pia Sundhage said about the global champions after her squad had been blanked for the first time in 57 games. Even so, the Japanese lost to the Germans in the final, which indicates that the Americans may do well to make the podium.
Eyes for St. Louis
Back in her Burlington gym is Olympic medalist Alicia Sacramone after successfully rehabbing the Achilles’ tendon that she tore on the eve of last autumn’s world championships in Tokyo.
“She really surprised me how she came back physically,’’ said coach Mihai Brestyan. “She really wants to do it. She’s pushing, she tries every day something new.’’
For now, Sacramone, who won’t compete until the June national championships in St. Louis, is doing balance beam and vault, but she may need to add the floor exercise, where she injured herself, to make the five-woman team for London.
Pulling no punches
After seven of their 10 men’s trials champions failed to qualify for the Olympics at last year’s world championships, USA Boxing went back to Round 1 at the recent national championships, where only lightweight Jose Ramirez, light welterweight Jamel Herring, and light heavyweight Marcus Browne (who called it “Operation Get-My-Spot-Back’’) earned a second chance at the Americas tournament in Brazil in May. Missing out among the original qualifiers were light flyweight Erros Correa, middleweight Jesse Hart, heavyweight Joseph Williams, and superheavyweight Lenroy Thompson, who was banned for a year for not keeping drug testers informed of his whereabouts. Replacing them are Santos Vasquez, Terrell Gausha, Michael Hunt, and Dominic Breazale. Already holding London tickets are flyweight Rau’Shee Warren, bantamweight Joseph DiazJr., and welterweight Errol Spence . . . Half of the US Olympic marathon team will tune up for London at the New York City Half on March 18. Meb Keflezighi, who won the January men’s trials in Houston, will be joined by Desiree Davila and Kara Goucher, who went 2-3 behind Marblehead native Shalane Flanagan in the women’s race . . . Sarah Robles and global rookie Holley Mangold (sister of Jets center Nick), both superheavyweights, grabbed the two US women’s weightlifting spots for the Games. Missing out was Katie Uhlaender, the newly-crowned world skeleton titlist who was hoping for a rare Olympic double but completed only one valid lift. The American men will get a chance to earn one spot at the Pan Ams . . . Two of the three Lopez siblings made it back to Olympus at last weekend’s taekwondo trials in Colorado Springs. Steve Lopez, who won gold in 2000 and 2004 and bronze in 2008, will be joined by sister Diana, who also won bronze in Beijing. Missing out was silver medalist Mark, who was beaten by Terrence Jennings.
Hall of Fame rowers
The 19 oarspeople enshrined in the Rowing Hall of Fame last weekend include a couple of boatloads of Olympic medalists - the 1972 men’s eight coached by Harry Parker (silver), the pair of Anna Seaton Huntington and Stephanie Maxwell-Pierson (1992 bronze), and the pair of West Newton native Ted Murphy and Sebastian Bea (2000 silver). They were joined by five other Olympians in twins Mary McCagg (1992, 1996) and Elizabeth McCagg Hills (1992, 1996, 2000), Jennifer Dore Terhaar (1996, 2000), Robert Kaehler (1992, 1996, 2000) and Jeff Klepacki (1992, 1996, 2000).
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from Olympic committees, sports federations, personal interviews, and wire services was used in this report.