Pavel Karelin, the 21-year-old leader of the Russian national ski jumping team, died in a car crash early on Sunday, his personal coach said.
“The tragedy took place early this morning. Airbags in his car failed. Pavel died, his two friends are in serious condition,” Alexander Svyatov said.
A local police source said Pavel’s Mercedes crashed near Central Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod, on a highway linking Moscow and the Urals city of Ufa. A source in the region’s emergencies service said one person was killed and one injured in a four-vehicle pileup in the area, but refused to confirm that it was Karelin.
A deputy head of Russia’s Federation of Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined, Vladimir Slavsky, said Pavel “either fell asleep or lost control of the vehicle” and died when his car swerved off the highway.
Karelin started taking part in major international ski jumping competitions three seasons ago, in the 2007/2008 season. During his brief career, he won three FIS World Cup medals – team silver, individual silver and team bronze and three FIS Summer Grand Prix medals – two individual silvers and one team bronze.
The head of the Russia’s national Federation of Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined, Alexander Uvarov, said the incident was “a tremendous loss not only for the discipline, but for all Russian sports.”
“You know, Pavel dreamed so much of winning the Olympic games,” he said in an interview with the All Sports agency. “We will now do our best to achieve what he dreamed of: Now our goal is to show the best performance at the Olympic Games in Sochi, to win the gold in the memory of Pavel.”