KITZBUEHEL, Austria (Reuters) - Alpine skiing cannot afford to lose its risk factor despite Austrian Hans Grugger’s life-threatening crash this week, according to Bode Miller and Didier Cuche.
A debate over safety regulations and equipment was sparked by Grugger’s fall on Kitzbuehel’s Streif piste on Thursday, after which the Austrian was placed in a medically induced coma.
World Cup leader Ivica Kostelic pleaded on Friday for improved safety measures, but Switzerland’s Cuche said on Saturday: “Risks are part of the game and everybody has to be able to keep control on himself and manage the risks he is willing to take on a downhill.
“If a skier doesn’t accept the risks of a downhill, he should stick to giant slaloms and slaloms.”
Cuche, 36, became the oldest man to win a World Cup race when he claimed victory in the classic Hahnenkamm downhill on Saturday.
Miller, the American Super-combined Olympic champion who finished second behind Cuche on Saturday, even suggested safety improvements were partly to blame for the danger as they led skiers to take risks regardless of the consequences.
“This course can chew you up pretty badly if you make bad choices,” he said.
“Here, athletes are forced to make risk management decisions that can be critical to their life and their safety. That’s what made skiing here so great in the past and is being lost now.
“As they made the safety equipment so perfect here, the decision of risk management doesn’t go down to the athlete any more. Everybody is taking maximum risks, because if you back off, 50 other guys won’t.”
But Miller had a warning for his fellow competitors.
“The athletes have the responsibility,” he said. “It’s not the course that’s too fast. If it is too fast, then slow down. It’s just that your ability was not matched up to how fast you were on the course.”
On Saturday, Italian Siegmar Klotz suffered a broken hand, light concussion and bruising in a crash in the downhill race.
Croatian Kostelic had responded to Grugger’s crash by recalling the repercussions for safety in motor racing of Ayrton Senna’s death during a Formula One race in Italy in 1994.
“When Senna crashed at Imola, it was like a huge earthquake within the FIA,” Kostelic said after his win in the Super-G on Friday.
“They changed the rules and we can see today how much they give into the security and safety.
“For me, it was just brutal when Hans crashed -- nothing basically happened on this jump, this jump will probably stay the same for (Saturday’s race).”
Kostelic finished 11th in Saturday’s downhill, while many skiers said they had been affected in their approach to the race by Grugger’s accident.
Grugger, 29, was sent tumbling into the safety nets after taking off before a steep section known as the Mousetrap in Thursday’s training.
After a successful five-hour operation at an Innsbruck hospital, he was listed as stable on Friday.
His crash was reminiscent of the accident suffered by Swiss skier Daniel Albrecht on the same Kitzbuehel piste two years ago.
Editing by Stephen Wood
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