Johnson: Ski cross uniforms honour fallen teammate
Canadian team will wear blue jean-inspired suits to remember Nik Zoricic
Clothes, it’s said, make the man. They can also, in certain special cases, pay homage to a man, too.
“It’s a big day for us, unveiling these,” said Calgary’s Brady Leman, decked out in the Canadian Ski Cross team’s Nik Zoricic-inspired outfits on Monday at Canada Olympic Park. “A lot of people know the story by now, of how Nik raced his first World Cup in jeans because he couldn’t find any ski pants. So we’ve got these jean pants. And we’ve got the Sarajevo” — Zoricic’s birthplace — “colours for our tops.
“It’s a cool tribute.
“His style was so ... He never tried to be cool. It just kinda happened for him. He always wanted to look good on the hill. He was one of the big voices on the team, making sure we had what we needed. This would be awesome for him.
“It means a lot that we can represent his style and his legacy on the hill all year long.”
The unveiling of the suits, a collaboration between team members and the Descente manufacturers, aligns with Saturday, the first World Cup ski cross race since the tragedy that took Zoricic’s life far from home, in Switzerland, in March.
On Canadian snow-packed soil, at Nakiska. With his teammates and coaches, the people he hung with, commiserated with, celebrated with, paying tribute to his memory and to the intangibles he brought to a group that would rise to be the best on the planet.
“I think it’s great to start the season off here at home,” said veteran ski cross campaigner Dave Duncan, of London, Ont. “Hopefully a good crowd will come out. The suits, being in Canada ...
“Canada wants to show the world we’re back. We’re ready. Ready to carry on Nik’s legacy of winning.”
On March 12, in Grindelwald, the 29-year-old Zoricic crashed headfirst in netting line the course after steering wide and falling on the final jump of a World Cup ski cross race. The stricken skier suffered severe skull and brain trauma. He died after being airlifted to a hospital in Interlaken.
“I don’t think about the day so much,” said Leman, nine months later. “I just remember my teammate all the time. What kind of guy he was; how he never settled for anything less than perfect. I think about him every day.
“He’d love (this).”
“We remember the good things; put the accident aside,” echoed women’s reigning world champion Kelsey Serwa. “It’s definitely emotional. It’s brought us really close together. We’re all a big family. When we lost Nik it was like losing a brother. We had to deal with it together. It was definitely a big challenge, we learned a lot. It’s sounds like a cliche, I know, but you learn not to take life for granted.
“If you love someone, let him know. Be open. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
They’ll never forget Nik Zoricic, of course. He will remain close always. But this weekend represents an opportunity for this team to not put what happened behind them, exactly, but to fully embrace the possibilities going forward.
“It’s very important to get over this first big race on home turf,” said Alpine Canada president Max Gartner. “We’re all human beings. There’s definitely a grieving process. I think everyone reacts to a tragedy differently. It varies. Some people can move on more easily.
“I think the best thing would be to go out and have a really solid competition. Just to remind everyone why they got into ski cross in the first place. I think the athletes are really starting to focus in on the sport again, and their love for it.
“So this is an important race for us. Really important. If only to get back in that mindset of having fun competing.”
The layout of the course in Grindelwald, and the preventability of the tragedy has ignited heightened awareness into the safety issue in ski sports. The mushrooming concern, with continued dedication, has the power to become Zoricic’s greatest legacy. Dave Duncan, his roomie on the road, is one of those who’s taken the imitative towards investigating better competitive conditions in the ski cross and freestyle disciplines.
“Even if I were retired today, I’d be very honoured to be moving on with that goal alone. At the end of the day we need more resources to make sure we’re building the proper courses. We don’t want smaller courses, just better-designed courses to showcase our sport. Lots of time in the air, fun turns, enough room for passes. Everything that makes it exciting, but as safe as possible, as well.”
This weekend, trying to refocus and reload from a tragedy that still lingers, for the first time since that terrible day in Switzerland, Canada’s ski cross team heads back to the hill. They’ll be there for their country and themselves, of course, but also for a guy who didn’t try to be cool; it just happened for him.
They’ll be carrying Canada’s colours, and wearing Nik Zoricic’s.
“Nik’s memory,” says Brady Leman, “is something that’s on everyone’s mind. Like I said before, for him if it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t good enough.
“That’s something I take away from being his teammate for so many years, in alpine and in ski cross. Something I cherish.
“It’s something I hope everyone can draw on to represent him this year. And every year.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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