Was luger's death Canada's fault?

Some question whether accident was a result of policy of limiting access to track

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WHISTLER -- Did Canada's quest for an Olympic home-field advantage go too far?

That's the question being asked after one of the most perilous sliding courses in the world turned deadly Friday morning.

Officials and athletes from around the world will soon move from mourning to a state of outrage over the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. And with the fallout will come fury.

As the Games get underway, many of those same Olympians will angrily be questioning whether the death could have been avoided.

An offshoot of the Own The Podium strategy put in place by the Canadian Olympic Committee was to limit athletes from around the world access to the facilities both here and in Vancouver.

The host nation's brazen blueprint for success has been a developing story as the Games grew near. And now it has turned to tragedy.

When the grieving makes way for anger, the COC will become a target of the wrath.

For luge, foreign competitors were limited to just 40 runs on the Whistler Sliding Centre course, a speedy, technical layout located on the side of Blackcomb Mountain. By comparison, the Canadians have had between 250 and 300 cracks at the run, which was built specifically for these Games.

As slider after slider crashed during training this week, athletes became louder and more outspoken in their criticism of the course, which has been nicknamed the 'elevator shaft' because of it's steep descent.

"I think they are pushing it a little too much," Australian luger Hannah Campbell-Pegg said earlier this week. "To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we're crash-test dummies?

"I mean, this is our lives and we enjoy doing this sport ... but then again, people haven't had the runs here.

"The Canadians are doing fine and they've had a lot of runs."

Campbell-Pegg was not the lone voice of criticism. From the Americans to the Europeans to the Aussies, concerns about the safety of the track and the lack of access to it was a sore point.

In a dramatic bit of foreshadowing, Andy Schmid, the performance director of British Skeleton, openly expressed his fear that tragedy would strike in one of the three disciplines -- luge, skeleton and bobsled.

"Please, let there be no accidents because that could kill the sport," Schmid, told England's The Daily Telegraph.

"People have the argument that it's just home advantage and that's normal for an Olympic host country, but it's different for sports involving high speed.

"Can you imagine in Formula One nobody being allowed on a track because somebody has home advantage?"

No one is suggesting the Canadians shouldn't be looking for an edge, because in the world of international amateur sports, such behavior is considered fair play.

But when the safety of the athletes becomes an issue, is it not clear the envelope has been pushed too far?

Here in Whistler Village, the atmosphere turned from festive to sombre as word spread from the mountain to the streets and cafes. Who wanted to celebrate the opening ceremony when the B.C. coroner had closed off the sliding centre to investigate the death?

Before these Games even begin, the legacy is now doomed to include one of the darkest moments in the history of the Olympic movement. And one for which Canadian officials will be held accountable.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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