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Austrian downhiller dies from injuries

By MARCIA HILL

WENGEN, Switzerland -- The normally festive World Cup ski circuit Saturday plunged into grief at the news that a young Austrian skier had died of injuries in a qualifying race Friday.

Doctors were unable to save the life of 20-year-old Gernot Reinstadler, who sustained massive internal injuries while attempting to qualify for Saturday's canceled World Cup downhill.

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A communique from the regional hospital at Interlaken, where Reinstadler received intensive surgery following the accident, said the racer's right leg had been almost torn off.

'Despite massive blood transfusions -- also after the operation -- he died from severe bleeding in the pelvic area,' the communique said.

The racer also sustained severe fractures and nerve damage, according to the doctor's report.

Surgeons fought for six hours at the operating table for the life of the young racer.

'Reinstadler was our downhiller of the future,' Austrian veteran Peter Wirnsberger said following the accident. Organizers moved quickly to cancel the two-race World Cup program this weekend, and the Austrian team left quickly, all in a state of shock and unable comment on the accident.

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The sport's last fatality was in 1970 when French racer Michele Bozon broke his neck and was killed at Megeve, France. In 1979 Italian racer Leonardo David crashed at Lake Placid, N.Y., and remained in a coma until he died seven years later in 1986.

Observers said Reinstadler came into the final s-curve travelling at top speed, had his weight too far forward, jumped too long and went out of control into the plastic netting. His ski got hooked in the netting and the force of the impact was enough to result in the fatal injuries.

Reinstadler slid semiconscious down the final slope to the finish area leaving a 30-foot trail of blood in his wake. He was given oxygen and flown off the mountain by helicopter. He went straight into surgery, but doctors were powerless to stem the bleeding.

The accident follows a week of debate concerning the proposed qualification system. A major criticism has been that young racers like Reinstadler would overextend themselves in an effort to make the final.

The question of safety on downhill courses was also a hot theme following the accident.

Erich Demetz, the president of the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup committee said the organization regretted the tragic accident, but underlined that the safety precautions by the organizing committee and the international race jury had been according to the requirements.

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'No matter what precautions we take, we have to consider that accidents like this will happen again in the future,' FIS safety expert Sepp Messner said.

'In the past we have had incredible luck that this has never happened before -- especially at Kitzbuehel,' Messner underlined.

Several accidents in recent years on 'Der Streif' at Kitzbuehel, Austria have resulted in life threatening injuries, but there have been no fatalities.

Messner said the technical ability and speed of today's racers, coupled with the quality and development of equipment, makes it impossible to guarantee a 100 percent safe downhill.

Canadian coach Glenn Wortell and Austrian ex-racer Karl Schranz both agreed with Messner's assessment.

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