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X Games Star Sarah Burke's Death Raises Debate

Extreme sports safety debate rages after freestyle skier Sarah Burke dies.

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As family and friends mourned the loss on January 19 of the 29-year-old Canadian X-Games champion, Sarah Burke, the debate over the safety of extreme sports reignited.

Injuries are not new to the world of extreme sports. As athletes improve, they push the boundaries, with more dangerous courses and riskier maneuvers. Freestyle skiing is no exception. Courses like the Eagle Superpipe in Utah—where Burke suffered her injuries—have walls that soar as high as 22 feet. This was the same course where Olympic snowboarding hopeful Kevin Pearce was severely injured in 2009. While some, including Pearce, feel that certain extreme sports have become too dangerous, others believe that changes such as improved courses and mandatory helmets have improved safety.

Burke died on January 19 at the University of Utah Medical Center, nine days after she fell during practice. At the time, she was attempting a maneuver that wasn’t out of the ordinary—for extreme skiing, that is. Witnesses say Burke did not hit that hard after the botched 540-degree flat spin, but she suffered a torn neck artery and cardiac arrest from the fall. This led to irreversible brain damage from lack of oxygen. Burke, who pushed to have the freestyle halfpipe included in the Olympics, was a four-time winner of the Winter X Games and was a favorite to win at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

A donation fund set up to cover Burke’s medical expenses—expected to be about $200,000—has reached its goal. Unused funds will be used to start a foundation in her name.

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