*Updated Thursday morning with information about Burke’s surgery
Canadian freeskiing superstar Sarah Burke, a favorite to win the gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics, was seriously injured Tuesday during a crash in the halfpipe at Park City Mountain Resort in Utah.
The four-time X Games champion struck her head after a fall and was airlifted to University Hospital in Salt Lake City. On Wednesday she underwent a successful operation to repair a torn vertebral artery, which resulted in an intracranial hemorrhage at the time of her fall.
William T. Couldwell performed the surgery and said it in a statement that it was too early to offer a prognosis: “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,” Couldwell said. “Our Neuro Critical Care team will be
monitoring her condition and response continuously over the coming hours and days.”
Burke’s publicist issued this statement Thursday morning: “Sarah’s family is grateful for the overwhelming outpouring of support from around the globe. Fans may continue to use Sarah’s Facebook page to express their
wishes and receive updates.”
Burke, a member of Canada’s national freestyle skiing team, was resuscitated on the mountain before being airlifted to University Hospital.
The Park City halfpipe is the same venue at which snowboarder Kevin Pearce was critically injured while training for the 2010 Olympics on Dec. 31, 2009. Pearce suffered traumatic brain injuries but has since recovered. Last month he rode a snowboard for the first time since the accident.
There’s nothing unique about the halfpipe but many top athletes train at Park City. And as they continue to progress the sport and push each other–Burke is the first female skier to have landed a 1080-degree rotation–the likelihood of severe crashes increases.
Athletes have rallied behind Burke on social media platforms. Snowboarder Louie Vito Tweeted:
“I want everyone to send positive vibes and prayers to @sarah_j_burke…EVERYONE!!!!!”
Freeskier Tanner Hall chimed in: “SENDING ALL THE POSITIVE VIBES TO SARAH BURKE RIGHT NOW.”
Burke’s husband, Rory Bushfield, told the Vancouver Sun: “Sarah is a very, very strong human and she will be fine.”
Burke, who is from Squamish, British Columbia, played a key lobbying role in bringing women’s freeskiing to the X Games, and to the Olympics. Men’s and women’s halfpipe and slopestyle competitions will debut at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
In 2007 Burke was voted Best Female Action Sports Athlete at the annual ESPY Awards.
–Top image is by Doug Pensinger / Getty Images. Action photo of Sarah Burke is courtesy of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association