Initial driving error led to luger's death

By BOB MACKIN, QMI Agency



Luger's death 'unforeseeable' -- report

VANCOUVER -- An International Luge Federation report published Monday blamed driving errors and a catapult effect for the death of a 21-year-old luger at the Whistler Sliding Centre on the opening day of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili was on a routine run Feb. 12 until the exit of turn 15 when "he appears to have hung on to the curve too long." He flew off the sled, hit a pole and died of blunt force trauma to the base of his skull.

"This is a tragic result that should not have occurred as a result of an initial driving error," said the 20-page report, which was submitted to the International Olympic Committee April 12.

The Whistler Sliding Centre was faster than designed and there were 203 crashes out of 32,646 runs, but the Germany-based federation said there was no hint that an athlete would ever leave the track.

The bowing of Kumaritashvili's sled as it hit the wall at the exit of curve 16 "has not been seen before and was therefore not predictable by technical and safety experts. No athlete would have control in dealing with this type of catapult effect."

Training was halted after the crash and the track closed by the RCMP for a B.C. Coroners Service investigation.

The federation found no bumps or cuts in the ice or incorrect ice profiles on the iced part of the track, but walls were increased and padding added to steel pillars where Kumaritashvili died. The men's start was moved to the women's/doubles start for the Games to reduce speeds by 10 km-h and "serve as an emotional and psychological benefit to the athletes." The track reopened Feb. 13 and Olympic competition began on schedule.

The report contains no recommendations, but said changes to the sport and tracks are being reviewed. The Whistler Sliding Centre is scheduled to host a 2012 world cup and the 2013 world championships.

Officials discovered in March 2008 when the $106 million, German-designed track was approved that it was "faster than originally calculated." Top speed was supposed to be 136 km-h, but Germany's Felix Loch registered 153.98 km-h.

The federation deemed speeds at Whistler "within the ability of athletes" but its president Jozef Fendt warned organizers of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in an April 2009 letter that a track with speeds higher than 135 km-h would not be permitted.

Kumaritashvili was the second generation of a Georgian luging family and was coached by his uncle. He qualified for Vancouver 2010 with a number 38 ranking as of Dec. 31, 2009 after competing at nine world cups at eight tracks, including Calgary. He had 26 training runs in Whistler in November 2009 and February 2010.

"The awful accident that ended his dream cut short a life full of promise, but he was doing exactly what he wanted to be doing on the day he died, he was racing toward a goal that he had pursued with uncompromising devotion since he was a young boy," said the report.

The federation donated 10,000 Euros to the Kumaritashvili family and the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations gave 10,000 Swiss francs. The family in Bakuriani, Georgia is still waiting to receive funds from a VANOC insurance policy.

A 400 to 500 m memorial track is expected to be built in Kumaritashvili's hometown.

John Furlong, chief executive of the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee, said the report was "quite possibly the greatest honour to Nodar's memory."

"A report that is the starting point to ensuring that, through the lessons learned, such a tragic incident may never happen again," Furlong said in a news release. "Nodar lived his life for the love of his sport and the FIL has made it clear in this report that this accident's circumstances were indeed unique."

The news release was issued just after 4 a.m. Vancouver time on Monday. Furlong denied on Friday that he had received an advance copy.

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