SALT LAKE CITY — Sarah Burke was an X Games star with a grass-roots mentality – a daredevil superpipe skier who understood the risks inherent to her sport and the debt she owed to it.
The pioneering Canadian freestyler, who helped get superpipe accepted into the Olympics, died Thursday after a Jan. 10 crash during a training run in Park City, Utah.
Burke, who lived near Whistler, in British Columbia, was 29.
Tests revealed she sustained “irreversible damage to her brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest,” according to a statement released by her publicist, Nicole Wool, on behalf of the family.
A four-time Winter X Games champion, Burke crashed on the same halfpipe where snowboarder Kevin Pearce sustained a traumatic brain injury during a training accident on Dec. 31, 2009.
Wool said Burke’s organs and tissues were donated, as she had requested before the accident.
“The family expresses their heartfelt gratitude for the international outpouring of support they have received from all the people Sarah touched,” the statement said.
Burke will be remembered as much for the hardware she collected as the legacy she left for women in superpipe skiing, a sister sport to the more popular snowboarding brand that has turned Shaun White, Hannah Teter and others into stars.
Aware of the big role the Olympics played in pushing the Whites of the world from the fringes into the mainstream, Burke lobbied to add superpipe skiing to the Winter Games program, noting that no new infrastructure would be needed.
Her arguments won over Olympic officials and the discipline will debut at the Sochi Games in 2014, where Burke likely would have been a favorite for the gold medal.
“Sarah, in many ways, defines the sport,” Peter Judge, the CEO of Canada’s freestyle team, said before her death. “She’s been involved since the very, very early days as one of the first people to bring skis into the pipe. She’s also been very dedicated in trying to define her sport but not define herself by winning. For her, it’s been about making herself the best she can be rather than comparing herself to other people.”
She was, Judge said, as committed to the grass roots of the sport – giving clinics to youngsters and working with up-and-coming competitors – as performing at the top levels.
News of Burke’s death spread quickly through the action-sports world, where the Winter X Games are set to start next week in Aspen, Colo.
“She’s probably one of the nicest people I’ve known in my life, and that’s about the only thing I have to say about it,” said American superpipe skier Simon Dumont, a multiple X Games medalist.