SALT LAKE CITY — Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke’s agent and her publicist were teary-eyed at a hospital Monday as they tried to explain the lack of any prognosis report for the Olympic favourite.
Burke, 29, was seriously injured Jan. 10 in a training accident at the superpipe in Park City, Utah, and six days later remained sedated on a breathing tube as doctors tested her brain functions.
Reporters gathered at Salt Lake City hospital Monday for what was expected to be a discussion by doctors of Burke’s most recent neurological tests and assessments.
At the last minute, however, Burke’s agent, Michael Spencer, and her publicist, Nicole Wool, said there was nothing the family wanted to report as doctors continued working on Burke, so the news conference was cancelled.
“Obviously, this is a sensitive situation,” a sombre Wool said at the University of Utah Hospital.
Spencer said he had not consulted any doctors but knew that Burke’s condition could remain tenuous for days, if not weeks, longer.
In a statement, Burke’s husband, Rory Bushfield, and other family members said they decided not to meet with reporters after discussing results from the skier’s latest brain scans and reflex tests.
The family said more tests will be done and future updates on Burke’s condition will come through her website, www.sarahburkeski.com.
A day after the accident, doctors said they repaired a tear to an artery that caused bleeding on her brain. They said she tore a vertebral artery, which is located in the neck and supplies blood to the brainstem and the back part of the brain. Those parts control many critical functions, including balance and vision.
“With injuries of this type, we need to observe the course of her brain function before making definitive pronouncements about Sarah’s prognosis for recovery,” Dr. William Couldwell, the neurosurgeon who performed the operation, said in a statement last week.
Burke, who a native of Barrie, Ont., who grew up in nearby Midland before moving to Squamish, B.C., is widely considered the foremost pioneer for her main sport of freestyle halfpipe. She lobbied aggressively to have it included in the Olympics, where it will debut in 2014.
She is a four-time Winter X Games champion and had been scheduled to defend her 2011 title later this month in Aspen, Colo. Burke tried many of the toughest tricks in her sport and was the first woman to land a 1080 — three full revolutions — in competition. It was not known what move she was performing when she was injured.
Before the accident, Burke was on a path that would have made her an odds-on favourite to win more X Games gold and possibly even the big prize in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
She fell while training at a personal sponsor event at the Park City Mountain Resort, an accident that witnesses said didn’t look as bad as it later turned out to be.
Burke was on the same halfpipe where snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury after a near-fatal fall on Dec. 31, 2009.
Pearce spent months in hospitals in Utah and Colorado, then missed the 2010 Olympics. Last month, 712 days after his traumatic brain injury, he got on a snowboard again in Breckenridge, Colo., according to his website.
Pearce, now 24, has said he has no plans to compete again because “snowboarding has become too dangerous.”
Burke’s accident once again brings up questions about the safety of the sport, and superpipes in general, which have walls soaring as high as 22 feet — more than 25 per cent higher since the middle of the last decade.
Experts within the sport believe improved pipe-building technology, along with air bags and mandatory helmets have made the sport safer, not more dangerous.