Father of skier who died encouraged by summit
Bebe (Predrag) Zoricic, right, father of Nik Zoricic, killed during a 2012 skicross race, listens to skicross athlete Dave Duncan speaking during the Ski Racing Safety Summit held in Calgary, Alberta on Thursday, Sept.20, 2012. (The Canadian Press/Larry MacDougal)
Published Thursday, September 20, 2012 7:19PM EDT
CALGARY -- Alpine Canada's safety summit on skicross gave the father of Nik Zoricic a measure of comfort.
Predrag (Bebe) Zoricic returned to Toronto from Calgary feeling his son's death in a World Cup race last winter has sparked a will to make the sport safer, within Canada at least.
"This summit is going to bring some peace and closure to my family," Zoricic said Thursday at a news conference to close the summit.
"It's part of the healing process for us. The only way you can bring Nik back is if these changes are done and the future of skicross is brighter than it is right now."
Nik Zoricic died of head injuries sustained in a crash during a World Cup race in Grindelwald, Switzerland, last March. He was 29.
Skicross involves four skiers racing each other down a course of bumps and jumps. The first one over the finish line wins.
Canada's skicross team includes Olympic women's champion Ashleigh McIvor as well as reigning world champions Kelsey Serwa and Chris Del Bosco.
Predrag Zoricic was invited to speak at Alpine Canada's second safety summit not only as a grieving parent, but also as a long-time ski coach in Ontario.
The inaugural summit last year produced measures intended to make alpine racing safer domestically in the wake of several severe injuries on the national ski team.
The International Ski Federation (FIS) classifies skicross as a freestyle discipline. In Canada, it falls under Alpine Canada's umbrella and not the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association's.
Chief executive officer Max Gartner says skicross is a speed event similar to downhill that can be incorporated into ski clubs' systems, so children learn how to race it safely at a young age.
"Skicross is a sport that came in through the X-Games," Gartner explained. "It had its Olympic debut in Vancouver. There was no grassroots system.
"It's irresponsible to say 'we'll take some late-bloomers and throw them into skicross.'
"We've got the number one team in the world, we've got the Olympic champion and it's our responsibility to responsibly introduce the sport into the system."
One example is to have a young skier race a course of moderate bumps and rolls alone in a timed event before introducing him or her to racing alongside other competitors, Gartner said.
Appointing FIS's technical delegate in Canada, Ted Savage, as a national safety consultant for skicross, para-alpine and alpine events was among the measures adopted by Alpine Canada.
Lobbying FIS to build safer courses was another recommendation. Alpine Canada has authority over domestic races, but World Cup and world championship races are the responsibility of FIS.
FIS will hold its fall meetings Oct. 2-7 in Zurich, Switzerland.
"We have the ability to influence our colleagues in other nations and we intend to do that," Savage said. "We intend to do that in a way that makes sure what occurred in March never happens again."
Nik Zoricic's teammates are also grieving his death. Dave Duncan of London, Ont., left the summit feeling reassured that people in positions of power in Canada care about his safety.
"These safety summits are nice and they show there is traction and there is going to be some change," Duncan said. "It does give us hope moving forward into these FIS meetings that change is coming and Nik won't go in vain."
Predrag Zoricic says he's still waiting for FIS to tell him the conclusion of a police investigation into his son's death.
"They're waiting for a police investigation they say is going to take another couple of weeks but they've been talking a couple weeks since early May," he said.
"It won't go away. They're going to kill the sport if they don't come up loud and clear what happened. Explain to people and move on."
FIS has called Nik Zoricic's death a "terrible, tragic accident," but his father is convinced it was avoidable.
The Zoricic family said following Nik's death they weren't planning legal action, but demanded an investigation into the crash.
In the meantime, the family has started a foundation in Nik's name to raise money for talent identification camps in Ontario, as well as for athletes who want to pursue the sport at an elite level.