Cavagnoud loses fight for survival

Skiing: Bell tolls for Cavagnoud as France mourns death of "local girl" who died from brain injuries sustained in a high-speed collision in Austria
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The Independent Online

The bell tolled for Regine Cavagnoud in her home village of La Clusaz in the Alps. Elsewhere in France, there was mourning for the "local girl" and Super–G World Champion who died at 31 yesterday from injuries sustained in a training accident.

"French sport has lost one of its great champions today," said French President Jacques Chirac in a letter of condolence to Cavagnoud's parents. "Regine has made her mark on world skiing with her boundless generosity and her unusual courage in the face of difficulties."

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said he was "devastated" by her death.

"She was such a beautiful young woman, who wasn't spared by bad luck," Jospin told reporters after a Cabinet meeting, referring to Cavagnoud's many previous accidents. "I never had the good fortune of meeting her. I never will have."

French Sports Minister Marie–George Buffet, quoted on LCI television, said she felt "immense sadness" upon hearing about the death and called for investigators to determine what caused the accident.

Cavagnoud, who also won the Super–G World Cup last season, died of head injuries sustained Monday in a training–run collision with a German ski coach on Austria's Pitztal glacier.

She was surrounded by her family when the respirator keeping her alive was switched off at the hospital in Innsbruck, Austria where she was flown after the crash.

German and French ski officials said communication problems between their teams led to the accident. A spokesman for the Austrian prosecutor investigating the accident said the German coach, Markus Anwander, might be responsible for the accident.

Her death was the first involving a World Cup skier since Austria's Ulrike Maier died in 1994 after crashing during a race in Germany.

In Cavagnoud's home village of La Clusaz in the French Alps, the bell tolled and flags were at half–staff following news of her death.

"The news brings dismay to the whole village," said deputy Mayor Jacques Collomb–Patton. "We all have in memory the image of a charming, determined and brave young local girl.

"These are the qualities that made her the great champion you all know," said Collomb–Patton, who offered the town's condolences to Cavagnoud's parents, Francois and Simone, and her sister, Valerie.

Cavagnoud's fellow skiers – from France and beyond – also paid tribute.

"The whole skiing family is in mourning," said French former world champion Carole Merle, speaking on Europe–1 radio. "Something terrible has happened."

"As long as she was in hospital, I told myself: 'She'll get through it.'," said Merle, whose career overshadowed that of Cavagnoud for much of the 1990s. "It's a huge shock."

Jean–Luc Cretier, the French downhill Olympic champion at the 1998 Nagano Games, told RTL radio that Cavagnoud was a great champion whose death came as a result of her dedication to skiing.

"She died for her work, because of her work," he said. "It is always the best who go first."

"I'm immeasurably shaken by the tragic death of my dear friend and colleague, Regine," said defending overall World Cup ski champion, Janica Kostelic of Croatia. "She was an extraordinary skier and, particularly in the speed disciplines, a true symbol of superiority and perfection."

The president of the French Ski Federation, Bernard Chevallier, said she was "an example for everyone."

"She loved skiing absolutely," he said. "She was ready to do anything for the sake of skiing."

Lille soccer club said a minute's silence would be observed later Wednesday before the start of its home Champions League game against Manchester United out of respect for the skier.