Russian skicross racer breaks back in training run; competitor calls course 'super challenging'

Jeff Passan and Eric Adelson
Yahoo Sports

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia A Russian skicross athlete broke her back and dislocated her spine during a training crash Saturday, casting questions over the safety of a Sochi Games course that one veteran rider called "super challenging."

Maria Komissarova, 23, underwent 6 1/2 hours of surgery to repair a broken dorsal vertebrae, according to the Associated Press.

"The operation is over. … It's been successful," Russian freestyle ski federation spokesman Mikhail Verzeba told the AP.

Komissarova was injured on the PSX Olympic skicross course at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, according to a statement released by the Russian Freestyle Federation. The news agency R-Sport later reported she broke her back and was undergoing surgery at a nearby hospital. Team doctor Mirzali Samedov told the Associated Press that Komissarova also suffered a dislocated spine.

In skicross, four athletes at a time barrel down a mountain on a freestyle course with sharp turns, steep inclines, big jumps and the constant threat of crashes. Almost every skicross racer has suffered a serious injury, and at a course like Rosa Khutor's, which a number of elite-level racers lauded on Twitter over the past week, the risk is palpable.

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"This is a super challenging course here," Canadian skicross racer Brady Leman told Yahoo Sports. "For someone in her position, she'd had have to been on her game here. If you're one of the athletes at the back of the pack, there's not a lot of room for error."

Some of the details of how Komissarova was injured remain unclear, however International ski federation spokeswoman Jenny Wiedeke told the Associated Press the accident came as Komissarova exited the third jump at the top of the 1,200-meter course. The Russian Olympic Committee office told Yahoo Sports it would have no further comment until more is known about Komissarova's condition.

Generally, Leman said, skicross racers run training sessions by themselves, with teammates or with friends. Leman and teammate Chris Del Bosco were the first Olympians on the course during training at 9 a.m. local time on Saturday, following a group of forerunners, or racers who test the course to see if there are any issues.

Forerunners often are less-experienced and less-qualified racers, and Leman said some forerunners "had trouble on the way down."

"It's designed for the best athletes in the world," Leman said. "Skicross is a young sport, and there's quite an ability spread still, especially on the ladies' side still."

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While Leman does not know Komissarova well, he said she "is always friendly." After competing on the world junior circuit as an Alpine skier, Komissarova took up the sport of skicross at the end of the 2010-11 season, upon a recommendation from her coach. In 2012, she was named "Face of the Year" by the Russian Freestyle Federation. Komissarova has posed for a number of pictures as a model and, according to the Sochi Games website, is dating fellow Russian skicross racer Alexei Chaadaev.

Komissarova has not finished in the top 15 in any event this season and was not considered a medal contender after a leg injury in early 2013 left her unable to ski for six months.

Leman, who broke his leg the day before the 2010 Vancouver Games and did not compete, expects the course to slow down before the men race on Thursday and the women on Friday.

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"The way conditions were today, the snow was harder and firmer than all week," Leman said. "It's likely harder and faster than it will be in the race."

Marielle Thompson, a Canadian medal contender in the women's event, heard about Komissarova's injury about 10 minutes before speaking with Yahoo Sports. She said her training run on the course went well.

“I think our sport has really made big changes in terms of safety," Thompson said. "I don’t think that many people are that concerned, especially on a big course like this that has been tested by high-level athletes in snowboard and skicross.”

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