Biggest question is why did he die?

Nobody listened when lugers said track was too fast

By

VANCOUVER — On the day before the gruesome crash, a day before the new beginnings of an Olympic Games were to be celebrated, a Latvian luger named Guntis Rekis foreshadowed the tragedy that was to come.

“My goals,” Rekis said, “are to stay alive, not break any bones, and catch some Whistler feeling.”

Rekis stayed alive. Maybe someone should have listened to him, though. Maybe someone should have listened to the American who told NBC he was worried the course at Whistler Sliding Centre was too fast. Maybe the governing body of luge should have done something. Or the Vancouver Organizing Committee. Somebody.

Many suspected there was a problem — but little was changed. And now, without any real explanation, Nodar Kumaritashvili is dead.

And the better question is: Why?

Kumaritashvili was no different than the majority of athletes who come to the Winter Olympics. He was a guy with hope, The people who know him best say he was an optimist by nature, as most world-class athletes are. He wasn’t a contender here. He wasn’t a medal threat of any kind. He was just another guy with a dream, and a want to participate. Another guy hoping to live the Olympic experience. And dammit, he was just a kid.

What we forget in the race for medals is that 90% of Olympians come and go without much notice, without headlines. They are as much a part of the celebration of life at an Olympics as anyone is. They fill out the dance card, make all of this possible.

They don’t expect, nor should they, to come to the Olympics and never go home again. Under almost any circumstances — and this crash was even more horrific — this seems impossible, implausible.

“He came to Canada with hopes and dreams that this would be a magnificent occasion in his life,” said John Furlong, the CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, choking back tears after trying to explain the death of a young athlete. Kumaritashvili was 21 years old. “I’m told by members of his federation that he was an incredibly spirited young person. And he came here to be able to feel what it’s like to be call yourself an Olympian.”

He came here to return home as a proud Olympian.

Now, it will be impossible to forget someone we never knew before Friday. Now, whenever we turn on an Olympics, whenever see a luge race, we will see the unfathomable crash. Now, much as we wanted to get excited about the opening ceremony, about the new Olympics in Canada, about everything that is hope and pride and accomplishment, there is a part of us that can’t move forward without looking back to Friday morning at Whistler.

“We are heartbroken beyond words to be sitting here,” said Furlong. “I am so sorry to be in this position. It’s not something I prepared for or ever thought I would have prepared for.”

There have been deaths at and around the Olympic Games before —horrible, political, incomphrensible deaths. Nine athletes died in Munich in 1972. Two people died when the bomb went off in Atlanta in 1996. A man was murdered on the day the Beijing Olympics began. A cyclist in 1960 in Rome crashed and died.

But almost none of those deaths were unavoidable because of terrorism or circumstances.

That’s not the case here. The Games will go, but not without both trepidation and remorse and a permanent stain. This death was avoidable.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca


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