La Clusaz, France, Nov. 2, 2001 (AP by Thierry Boinet)–As friends and neighbors prayed for Regine Cavagnoud in her home village in the Alps, German and French ski officials argued over responsibility for her fatal collision with a German coach.
Meanwhile, French former skiing greats urged improved security in the wake of the crash, stressing the need to “protect champions as fully as possible.”
The traditional All Saints Day mass in this Alpine ski station was dedicated to the memory of the Super-G world champion, who died Wednesday from head injuries sustained in a training accident two days earlier on Austria’s Pitztal glacier.
“What happened to her is very sad,” said mourner Nicole Legay. “She was the smile and symbol of our mountains.”
The mayor of La Clusaz, Claude Comte, said that Cavagnoud’s body would be driven to the village from Austria on Friday. She’ll be buried Monday.
Questions continued to surface over the circumstances of the crash during a joint French and German training session.
The 31-year-old skier had just cleared a slight hump and was hurtling down the mountain at about 40 mph when German coach Markus Anwander crossed into her path, witnesses told authorities.
The chief German coach for Alpine skiing, Walter Vogel, said the crash occurred during what was supposed to have been a break in practice to prepare the course, and that no one on the German team knew Cavagnoud was coming down the mountain.
“Our people were not informed,” Vogel said. “It was clearly agreed to prepare the course after every two runs. That’s why Markus Anwander was preparing the course.”
“I can’t recognize any mistakes by our team.”
Anwander also sustained severe head injuries and remained in intensive care Thursday, although his condition had stabilized.
The president of the French Ski Federation, Bernard Chevallier, denied that Cavagnoud went down during a break.
“If the course was being prepared there would have been many people,” Chevallier told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “You don’t have one person preparing the course.”
The two teams were operating on different walkie-talkie frequencies. But Chevallier said each team usually has its own trainer at the start to warn fellow team members of skiers coming down the course.
The German trainer on site must have seen Cavagnoud leave, Chevallier said. If a French skier starts, the German trainer says so in addition to the French trainer.
“All the procedure that applies to all teams during training was scrupulously followed,” Jean-Philippe Vulliet, the French women’s team director, told L’Equipe, the French sports daily.
An autopsy was performed Wednesday on Cavagnoud as part of an investigation to determine who was responsible for her death. Earlier, investigators had focused on Anwander, but have broadened their inquiry to include others at the scene.
Anyone found responsible for Cavagnoud’s death could be charged with manslaughter, a crime that carries up to one year in prison.
Several retired French skiing greats said there was a need for improved safety among high-level skiers.
Former Olympic champion Marielle Goitschel urged speed restrictions.
“We know that today high-level competitive skiing is horribly dangerous,” Goitschel, the 1968 Olympic slalom champion, told France-Info radio.