Sarah Burke's absence is being felt at the Sochi Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee has ruled that her friends can't honour her memory the way they want to. Burke, the Canadian freestyle skier who won four X Games gold medals and helped establish halfpipe skiing as a discipline (it's making its Olympic debut in Sochi), tragically died after a crash in halfpipe training in January 2012, but many of the Olympians in Sochi still remember Burke fondly and want to show the world what she meant to them. Sadly, though, as Australian snowboarder Torah Bright discovered, the IOC has banned helmet stickers honouring Burke. From Bright's Instagram page:
I am also here to honor my great friend Sarah Burke who left this world two years ago. I ride with a Sarah sticker on my snowboard and helmet always. The IOC however, consider Sarah stickers "a political statement" and have banned them. WOW. Sarah is a beautiful, talented, powerful women, who's spirit inspires me still. She is a big reason why skier pipe/slope are now Olympic events.
This ban, which seems to be quite recent, could affect several Canadian skiers who looked to honour Burke as well. Roz Groenewoud, the 2011 world champion in women's halfpipe skiing and a medal favourite in Sochi, told Donna Spencer of The Canadian Press earlier this week that Burke is always on her mind—and on her helmet—going into a run:
After every turn down the competitive halfpipe, Roz Groenewoud pauses to touch the sticker that adorns her helmet.
The decal — a slash of red handwriting that simply says "Sarah" — is a tribute to her friend and teammate Sarah Burke. The gesture is her way of saying "I miss you" and "You should be here." ...
And so Groenewoud is left to carry Canada's torch in the event, while she carries Burke's memory in the sticker on her helmet, and in the silver snowflake pendant she wears around her neck — the same snowflake Burke had tattooed on her foot.
"Sarah is definitely on my mind going into the Olympics," Groenewoud said, pausing to fight back tears.
Groenewoud — known on the ski circuit as "Roz G" — travelled to the 2012 Summer Olympics to experience the Olympic vibe, and it was during those two weeks in London that the full weight of Burke's absence truly hit home.
"The trip was unbearably hard," said Groenewoud, the 2011 world champion. "It was the first time I realized I would be going to Sochi without Sarah, and it was like getting a kick in the chest, kind of fully coming to terms with that."
If the IOC ruling that stickers honouring Burke (or other fallen athletes, such as
Canadian skicross racer Nik Zoricic, who died in a crash two months after Burke in March 2012) proves to be universal, that could be another kick for Groenewoud and others who would like to remember fallen comrades. Burke is one of the key figures in the history of halfpipe skiing, and she was the first woman to land a 720 a 900 and a 1080 in a halfpipe in competition. She was just 29 when she died, and she likely would have been a medal favourite in Sochi. Her memory lives on through the Sarah Burke Foundation (which gives out scholarships to promising young athletes, amongst other efforts), though, and that's where some of the stickers come from. Here's an example:
While rules against certain advertisements and such have some value, it's a pity that the IOC can't see the big picture here. Burke was a massive part of the skiing and snowboarding world, and ruling that her friends from that world can't honour her memory with helmet stickers just seems awful. We'll see if there's a backlash and if they change their minds, but for now, it appears that they'll keep stickers honouring Burke off the Sochi slopes.