Lugers struggle with altered track
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
Canada's Regan Lauscher of Red Deer, Alta. slides past the Olympic logo during a training run for the women's luge training event in Whistler Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010. (AL CHAREST/ QMI AGENCY)
WHISTLER, B.C. — Another day and more controversy in the troubled Olympic luge competition.
As athletes grappled with their emotions following the death of Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili on Friday, hours of training and preparation were rendered worthless.
In an effort to create a perception of safer conditions, officials shortened the track at the controversial Whistler Sliding Centre for both the men and women’s events.
The men, whose first two competitive runs took place Saturday night, are now beginning from the women’s start while the women move to the junior start.
“I’ve trained for two years for this,” a frustrated Meaghan Simister, of Regina, said after a practice run Saturday. “The best part of luge for me is the start and that has been ripped from me.”
The men, meanwhile, had little time to prepare for their new-look track, which has three fewer turns than the original configuration. After two training efforts in the morning, the first two of four competitive runs were raced after nightfall.
All of the men sliders wore black tape on the left side of their helmets Saturday as a tribute to Kumaritashvili, whose death cast a pall over the Games and competition.
As part of the fallout, Canadians were left to deflect repeated questions about the restricted access foreigners were given to the track here.
“Luge isn’t fair,” said Calgary’s Ian Cockerline, who is in 21st place. “If we’d have given everybody a lot of runs, we would have gotten in trouble for that because there’s pressure on us to win medals.
“There’s money invested in this and that’s what it comes down to.”
The top Canadian heading into Sunday’s final two runs is Sam Edney, who sits 10th. Canadian coach Wolfgang Staudinger also made no apologies for essentially doing what he says every other luge federation would.
“We wanted to use our home-field advantage like any other nation,” Staudinger said. “This is not a specific Canadian issue that we’re bad or mean.”
Another voice joined in on the criticism of the Canadians and event organizers — that of USA Luge chief executive Ron Rossi, who told a group of reporters here that access to Olympic course must be improved.
Rossi said the sport’s governing body must guarantee access for athletes around the world, especially at the Olympics, when less-experienced athletes such as Kumaritashvili, who was ranked 44th in the world, compete.