X Games kick off with tribute to fallen champ Sarah Burke
Sarah Burke competes in 2009's Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.
January 27th, 2012
01:01 PM ET

X Games kick off with tribute to fallen champ Sarah Burke

Just three weeks ago, Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke was preparing to defend her 2011 Winter X Games ski superpipe gold medal. On Thursday, athletes kicked off the 2012 event without her, memorializing the fallen skier with stickers, ribbons and a torchlit tribute.

Dozens of athletes with torches gathered on the top of a darkened Buttermilk Mountain halfpipe in Aspen, Colorado, and wordlessly skied to the bottom as part of a tribute during ESPN's Winter X Games broadcast Thursday night. Many then embraced Burke's relatives, who were waiting at the bottom.

See the Denver Post's video of the tribute

Burke, a four-time Winter X Games gold medalist credited with getting women's ski halfpipe into the 2014 Winter Olympics, died January 19 as a result of a training accident nine days earlier.

Thursday's tribute on the superpipe was part of a seven-minute segment dedicated to Burke on ESPN. A 90-second video showed performance highlights and old interview clips of the skier.

Burke, at the Winter X Games in 2009.

"She was a superstar with the humility of a rookie," one of ESPN's hosts for the Winter X Games, Sal Masekela, said before the video was shown. "She is the reason that women’s ski pipe is at Winter X, and why it will be in the Olympics in 2014. So if you are looking for her legacy, you will find it in all the faces that you see here tonight, and all those that line halfpipes and come-down mountains around the world for years and years to come."

Burke, 29, reportedly fell while trying a trick and "whiplashed" onto her side at the superpipe at Colorado's Park City Mountain Resort on January 10, officials have said. She ruptured a vertebral artery in the fall, leading to an intracranial hemorrhage that caused her to go into cardiac arrest at the accident site, according to a statement released by her publicist.

She was taken to a hospital, where she was put on life support and underwent successful surgery to repair the artery - one of four major arteries supplying blood to the brain - the next day, according to the statement. But after the surgery, tests determined she suffered "irreversible damage to her brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest," the statement read.

People flooded Burke's Facebook page with messages of support after her fall and mourning after her death. A website raising money for Burke's medical bills, memorial costs and future foundation has raised more than $290,000.

X Games participants are honoring Burke with red "Celebrate Sarah" stickers on their equipment, and purple ribbons on their clothes, according to ESPN. And after Canadian Kaya Turski won Thursday's ski slopestyle gold medal - her third straight X Games gold in that event - she told ESPN that Burke was in her thoughts while she competed.

“I always looked up to Sarah. I always will look up to Sarah," the 23-year-old Turski said. "Before every run, actually, on my way into that first rail, I said, ‘Let’s do this, Sarah. I know you’re with me.’ She led me all the way.”

Burke, a native of Ontario who lived in British Columbia, was 11th in the Association of Freeskiing Professionals overall rankings last year. She won gold at the 2005 world championships in Finland and in 2007 received ESPN's Best Female Action Sports Athlete award.

The Winter X Games continue through Sunday.

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Filed under: Canada • Colorado • Skiing • Sports • Winter X Games
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. banasy©

    This is nice.
    A fitting tribute to her.

    January 27, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charge

      she died for sledding. not fitting for anyone to die because of sledding.

      January 27, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • deathwombat

      It was skiing, not sledding.

      January 27, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. pccanyonssnowbird

    In colorado at park city mountian resort!cnn ever read thier own stories!! lol her accident happend out at the crossroads of the west

    January 27, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Charge

    X games are not a sport.

    January 27, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Charge

    What is wrong with people that think this is a sport. So strange. A tribute to sledding not a sport

    January 27, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • deathwombat

      Sledding and skiing are very different events. If those look like sleds on Sarah's feet, it might be time for new glasses.

      January 27, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jamie

    Most of these posts are typical of what is wrong with this country. I am not at all a fan of x-games, but the loss of this young person is a tragedy. I offer my mother's admonition: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything. We seem in our country not to be able to put ourselves in someone else's place, or to understand the pain of others. To Sarah's loved ones, I am so sorry for your loss and you are in my thoughts.

    January 27, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JMStewart

    Thank you Jamie!
    Sarah RIP

    January 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Truman Angel

    "Colorado's Park City Mountain Resort" is in Utah.

    January 27, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Zeppelin

    RIP Sarah.

    January 27, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Eric

    Park City Mountain Resort is in Utah, not Colorado.

    January 27, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Clarence

    Halfpipes are insane. Problem is crazy people like to watch the insane near death experience. Nonetheless when some one dies they all lie and say O' how sad. Halfpipes are like monster jumps they should both be illegal. Every year someone dies. From Mammoth Lakes. Ego freaks – need to find peace not insanity.

    January 27, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Clarence

    Half pipes and monster jumps are for the insane!

    January 27, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Shmeckell


    With that being said, the announcers they had last night SUCKED. Sitting there watching the people do their runs, and the announcers are just having a conversation about something else, the whole frigging night. Hey guys, would you mind talking about what we are watching?

    January 27, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mike

    First of all, you people who are making terrible comments in this should be punished for life.... Also, I thought what the X Games did last night to honor Sarah Burke was incredible. I've been a huge fan of the X Games since the very first year and she really is the female pioneer of extreme skiing. Sal was right when he said that Women's Super Pipe is in the X Games and Olympics because of her. They aren't called Extreme Sports for nothing.... I would like to see all you negative people in this thread try to do one trick Sarah did.

    Kudo's to ESPN and the X Games for such a perfect tribute to Sarah last night. Sarah, may you Rest in Peace.

    January 27, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Eben

    Sarah's legacy is something we could only dream of living up to. They say " the brave do not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all "

    January 27, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Olaf Big

    I understand fellow extreme skiers paying her a tribute, but the ESPN guy? That's crocodile tears. ESPN and the adverisers are making huge money off televising the X-games, and this is what forces these athletes to push the envelope further and further. Accidents happen, but she would have probably thought twice about trying these jumps for olympic gold alone.

    January 27, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
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