Luge death fallout continues

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

WHISTLER, B.C. - Nobody wanted to blame the track.

Nobody wanted to blame the restrictive access policies of the Canadian hosts, either.

So when in doubt, why not hang it on the dead guy?

With heavy hearts, the luge world returned to its axis on Saturday, not even 24 hours after young Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died on the track at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

Training resumed and the opening day of the men’s competition got under way on a shortened run with a few safety improvements.

The show must go on, after all, but before it did officials took time to admonish the world’s media for even suggesting they be held accountable for the tragedy.

“It’s one of the fastest tracks but that doesn’t mean we want to push our athletes to their limits,” International Luge Federation (FIL) president Josef Fendt said at a morning press conference. “The track was safe.”

Try telling that to the family of Kumaritashvili.

Or to his Georgian teammate, Levan Gureshidze, who couldn’t bring himself to the track and instead withdrew form the event.

Or to athletes, who for months have been complaining about speeds so fast they create a G-force on turns that magnify mistakes and make them nearly impossible to correct.

Once the RCMP and B.C. coroner’s office wrapped up their investigation late Friday, the FIL flipped into damage control. Rather than review the safety conditions of the course, they looked at the tape of the crash and offered a detailed critique of Kumaritashvili’s shortcomings as an athlete.

This from the FIL’s technical analysis, released in statement:

“It appears after a routine run, the athlete came late out of curve 15 and did not compensate properly. ... Technical officials were able to retrace the path of the athlete and concluded there was no indication the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track.”

Cold translation: We can’t help it if the young Georgian can’t drive.

Kumaritashvili was ranked 44th in the world and as such was short in both experience and expertise. To that end, there are suggestions the sport must do a better job monitoring quality control before sending young men and women hurtling down an icy track at speeds approaching 150 kilometres an hour.

“It’s a serious business, it’s not like sliding on the kids’ hill on a crazy carpet,” Canadian coach Wolfgang Staudinger said after the morning training runs. “(The fatal crash) was not a track issue. There must have been a huge driving error.”

Staudinger meant no disrespect and his point has merit. Kumaritashvili was badly out of his line when he hit the turn in question — the one most feared by competitors in all the sliding sports, by the way — and had little chance to recover.

The Austrians and Germans and other powerhouses of the sport don’t have trouble with the difficult courses and most of the elite crave the challenge and thrill the high speeds bring.

“Any track will punish the inexperienced,” Canadian Ian Cockerline said. “If you are brave enough to come and try this, you understand the risks.”

Earlier in the week, the Canadians boasted about their measures to make sure as many foreign sliders as possible lacked experience on the Whistler track, an acknowledged tenet of the Own the Podium program. The athletes and coaches defended the practice Saturday while a high-ranking Canadian official pretended it never happened.

“We’re quite confident in the number of runs we did provide all the teams,” said Tim Gayda, the Vancouver organizing committee’s vice-president of sport.

We can think of one team that might argue the point.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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