Alpine skiers prepare for emotional World Cup opener

Los Angeles (AFP) - The death of France's two-time Olympian David Poisson will weigh heavily on the hearts and minds of downhill ski racers as they start their season on Saturday in Lake Louise, Canada.

Alpine skiers prepare for emotional World Cup opener

Alpine skiers prepare for emotional World Cup opener

Poisson, a downhill bronze medalist at the 2013 World Championships, was killed after he lost a ski, went through the safety netting and struck a tree during training on November 13 at Nakiska ski resort.

The 35-year-old Poisson was travelling at over 100 kilometres per hour when he lost his balance on a curve.

The Nakiska resort was used during the 1988 Calgary Olympics and is popular with many teams for preparations ahead of the World Cup events in the Canadian Rockies which traditionally opens the speed season.

The racers have yet to test the conditions of the Lake Louise course this week because of the cancellation of Wednesday and Thursday's training runs due to rain and warmer than normal temperatures.

Poisson, who lost his own father to cancer just over three weeks ago, was a hugely popular figure on the World Cup circuit, known by his nickname of "Caillou" -- the French for pebble -- given his short, muscular build.

"My heart goes out to David Poisson's family, friends and teammates. He was a good man, a beast and a friend. I will miss him," US skier Steven Nyman said in a tweet.

Poisson made his World Cup debut in 2004 at the age of 20, earning his sole podium when he finished third in the downhill in Santa Caterina last season.

Poisson, the father of a young son, took part at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics at Vancouver and Sochi, finishing seventh and 16th respectively in the downhill races.

The Frenchman's death is the 12th on the professional circuit, the last coming when compatriot Regine Cavagnoud died after hitting a German coach at the Austrian resort of Pitzal in 2001.

Ski racing remains a danger-laden sport, with injuries and crashes commonplace and in no place is the danger more evident than at Kitzbuehel's "Streif" piste, a 3.3-km-long rollercoaster of a run with an average gradient of 28 degrees, where skiers have to negotiate a 80-metre jump.

Poisson claimed a top-10 finish in Kitzbuehel on three occasions, each time left revelling at having mastered the ultimate test for a professional ski racer.

By contrast the Lake Louise course is considered one of the easier downhills on the World Cup circuit. Saturday's downhill will be followed by a Super-G race on Sunday.

- Air fences for protection -

Canadian race officials say they have installed several kilometres of safety netting on the course this year with the majority stretching from the start gate to the Tickety Chutes section. Course designers have also put up willy bags and air fences to protect the racers.

Laurel Flessel, the French sports minister, also expressed her sadness and said she would look carefully into the circumstances of the tragedy at Nakiska.

The last death of athlete during an Olympic Games also took place at a Canadian ski resort. Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, of Georgia, was killed during a training run for the 2010 Winter Games when he lost control on a sharp curve and was thrown over the sidewall, striking a unprotected steel support beam in Whistler, British Columbia.

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