'Deadly' luge run back in action

Track altered after death of Olympian during training

By ROB LONGLEY QMI Agency


Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old Georgian luger, died in a horrific crash during a training run on Friday. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)


WHISTLER, B.C. - With the RCMP and B.C. coroner’s Nodar Kumaritashvili investigation complete into Friday’s tragic death here, the luge track has been altered and re-opened for training Saturday morning.

After an emotional night, officials have decided to proceed with the competition on the deadly run, but men will now begin their competition at the women’s start point.

Other than some minor adjustments to the ice surface designed to help keep sleds on track and an extension of the wall near where the young Georgian hurtled off the track, the International Luge Federation (FIL) will proceed as planned.

In fact, FIL officials steadfastly defended the safety of the track, rejecting the concerns of athletes that speeds are getting out of control.

Instead, president Josef Fendt of Germany essentially said the accident was caused by pilot error.

Once the cops cleared the site, FIL officials grappled with how to proceed with the competition. Ultimately

“There is a technical component and an emotional component,” Sven Remstad, the FIL’s secretary general said on Saturday morning. “None of our athletes expected this. They lost a friend yesterday. This is emotional for everyone.

“We still want an Olympic competition and still be respectful of the athletes whose friend died on that track.”

Canadian officials flatly rejected that they are in any way responsible for the crash, either in the construction of the track at the Whistler Sliding Centre or by restricting access to the facility for foreign competitors.

“We’ve always wanted to ensure a safe and fair field of play,” said Tim Gayda, the Vancouver organizing committee’s vice president of sport. “We believe we did everything in our power to make that track as safe as we can.”

Likewise, Fendt rejected the idea that the track here is too fast, despite the complaints of athletes and coaches. Lugers have been clocked at speeds of 153 kilometres per hour, which has clearly pushed the limits of safety.

“It is a fast track, but we never said it was too fast,” Fendt said. “That doesn’t mean we want to push our athletes to the limits.

“It is true that (earlier there were concerns about the speed) but after a while we found the track to be safe for the athletes.”

With the re-configured run, athletes entered in the single men’s event scrambled to get in two practice runs Saturday morning. The first two of four competition runs are scheduled to be run early Saturday evening.

As for the RCMP and Coroner’s investigation, officials released the following statement.

“The technical officials of the FIL were able to retrace the path of the athlete and concluded there was no indication that the accident was caused by deficincies in the track.”

After reviewing the tapes, it was decided that the young Georgian, who died almost instantly, was late coming out of curve 15 and could not get back on course.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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