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Nik Zoricic's family want Alpine Canada, FIS to investigate skier's race death

03/06/2013 12:52 EST | Updated 05/06/2013 05:12 EDT
The lawyer for the family of Nik Zoricic beseeched Canadian sports officials and politicians to seek justice for the skicross racer who died during competition nearly one year ago.

Tim Danson called a news conference Wednesday in Toronto to express the family's extreme dissatisfaction over the investigation held by Swiss authorities into Zoricic's death during competition, and what they perceive to be an unsatisfactory response here in Canada to that probe.

Swiss police have said the tragedy was a “sporting accident” and not due to any flaw in the ski course he had been racing down, as first revealed through documents obtained by CBC-TV's the fifth estate.

Danson called upon Alpine Canada, Sport Canada, Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS) and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Parliament to respond to Zoricic's "senseless" death.

"Through Sport Canada, Canadian athletes are funded by all Canadians to represent athletic excellence and Canadian values around the world, to act as role models for our children and our younger athletes," Danson said. "Our athletes make us proud to be Canadian. Nik Zoricic upheld his end of the bargain. He represented Canada with pride, honour and distinction. Canadian athletes must know that, in return, Canada has their back."

The 29-year-old Toronto native died afer suffering massive head injuries after crashing in the finish area at a World Cup race in Grindelwald, Switzerland on March 10 of last year.

In exclusive video taken by a camera on the helmet of a teammate during a training run and shown on the fifth estate, competitors struggled to stay inside the course lines, with a racer narrowly missing the post on the right side of the finish line.

Zoricic landed out of bounds on the right side after his final jump, crashing into safety netting near the post.

Teammate Dave Duncan told the program that Zoricic expressed unease with the course.

Danson said the family reached out to Canadian sports officials in April 2012, but are taking this public step due to a lack of sufficient response.

Zoricic's father, Bebe, who called the Swiss police report a "whitewash," said the poor design of the course steered skiers right, the safety netting was of the wrong type, there was no "spill zone" and the mound of cement-like snow should not have been there.

"He's an athlete, he just goes to win, no matter, he wasn't thinking slow down, he's just going to win," he said. "Then gravity just took him to that side ... it kept taking everybody."

For Sylvia Zoricic, it has gone beyond wanting an apology for her son Nik's death.

"I don't want change just for Nik, there are so many athletes out there exposed," she said. "Over the years we somehow have compromised safety and athletes deserve, they have the right, the basic human right to compete and train in safe conditions. Compromising that is not an option."

Danson added that the family wasn't asking for a time-consuming or expensive investigation from Canadian officials.

He threatened to sue this coming June on behalf of the family if they don't get a sufficient response, although the scope of such legal action wasn't immediately clear.

"We are bending over backwards to avoid such an outcome, but the resolve of the Zoricic family to honour and protect their son's memory should not be underestimated."

Alpine Canada, in a statement, said it is premature to talk about a new probe.

"In December 2012, an interim report was released by the Swiss police as part of their investigation into the accident in Grindelwald," said Max Gartner, Alpine Canada president. "Alpine Canada is disappointed that a final report, which it would like to have the opportunity to thoroughly review, has still not been published. With respect to calls for a separate, independent investigation, we continue to await the publication of the final Swiss police report and look forward to reviewing the investigation’s findings."

FIS, per a Reuters report, echoed the sentiment to allow the process in Switzerland play itself out.

"The report says that the accident was not caused by a fault of any person. However the state prosecutor has not issued his [final] decision yet and until this time we have no further comment to the investigation carried out by the state here in Switzerland."

The Canadian skicross team is wearing suits this season that pay tribute Zoricic, resembling the blue jeans he actually wore during a 2009 World Cup race.

Bebe Zoricic moved the family from Sarajevo when his son was a child and is an experienced ski coach.

Danson has also represented athletes Steve Moore and Eric Lamaze, as well as the families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, murder victims of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.

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