Canadian athletes in mourning following death of Nik Zoricic

Canada’s winter athletes are mourning a death in the family.

Canadian National Ski Cross team member Nick Zoricic of Toronto

Canadian National Ski Cross team member Nick Zoricic of Toronto

Canada’s winter athletes are mourning a death in the family.

Ashleigh McIvor and her teammates on Canada’s skicross squad were in mourning Saturday after Toronto’s Nik Zoricic died of head injuries following a crash in a World Cup event.

Zoricic’s death shook McIvor, who won a gold medal in the sport at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver but is out of action with a knee injury. The Whistler, B.C., native said she knew Zoricic since she was a young skier.

“Nik and I both qualified for international juvenile ski race at the age of 13, and Nik’s dad was our coach for it,” McIvor said during a conference call. “I think what a lot of people don’t know about our sport is the men and women actually travel together.

“When we are on the road together those guys are like my brothers and the girls are like my sisters. Obviously this is absolutely horrible.”

Zoricic’s death was particularly difficult for a community still reeling from the death of Canadian freestyle halfpipe star Sarah Burke. The Winter X Games champion died in January from injuries sustained in a crash during a training run.

While Zoricic’s teammates in Grindelwald, Switzerland prepared for a candlelight tribute to him at the event, fellow athletes and admirers flocked to social media to show their support.

Kelsey Serwa of Kelowna, B.C., the reigning women’s world champion in skicross who is also out with a knee injury, posted a goodbye to Zoricic on her Facebook page.

“Today we lost an incredible person, an amazing athlete, a teammate and a good friend. There is no reason why these things happen,” she said. “Nik, you have been someone I look up to, and cannot believe you are gone. Your years were too few but what you accomplished was more than others accomplish in a lifetime.

“You are an amazing person, a bright spirit, and will forever be missed. My heart and thoughts go out to all of Niko’s friends and family. We already miss you dearly Nik, be in peace.”

Bal Gosal, the Minister of State (Sport), said in a statement Canada had lost “a talented and dedicated young athlete.”

Meanwhile on Twitter, downhill skier Ryan Semple of Whistler, tweeted, “A close friend and lifetime skier was lost today. My thoughts go out to his family. May you rest in peace Nick Z!!!”

Mike Janyk, also of Whistler, was participating at a slalom event in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia when he heard of Zoricic’s death.

“Tomorrow is for you Niko,” he tweeted.