Slider’s death sparks track probe

TRAIN­ING CRASH Course is ‘too fast,’ world luge chief says

Montreal Gazette - - Business - TERRY BELL and JEFF LEE CANWEST OLYMPIC TEAM

WHISTLER, B.C. – The track on which a Ge­or­gian luger died in a fa­tal crash yes­ter­day is as much as 20 kilo­me­tres an hour too fast, an in­ter­na­tional sport of­fi­cial said.

Van­cou­ver win­ter Games of­fi­cials have launched a probe into the shock­ing track ac­ci­dent that killed No­dar Ku­mar­i­tashvili dur­ing a train­ing run, only hours be­fore the open­ing cer­e­mony.

“The track is too fast,” Joseph Fendt, pres­i­dent of the World Luge Fed­er­a­tion, told Lon­don’s Daily Tele­graph.

“We had planned it to be a max­i­mum of 137 km/h, but it is about 20 km/h faster. We think this is a plan­ning mis­take.’’

The head of the Ge­or­gian Olympics del­e­ga­tion agreed.

“I don’t know how he died but I can tell you one thing, the track was re­ally very bad,” Irakly Japaridze told the New York Times.

Ku­mar­i­tashvili, 21, was taken to a hospi­tal af­ter a crash that saw him fly off the track near the bot­tom of the course at the Whistler Slid­ing Cen­tre. He died later.

The fa­tal crash occurred near the bot­tom of the course.

Ku­mar­i­tashvili hit the track’s in­side wall, flew up and over the out­side wall and struck a girder. His speed was es­ti­mated at 144 km/h.

Open­ing day tragedy:

Med­i­cal staff were on the scene and ap­plied CPR. Ku­mar­i­tashvili was then taken to a hospi­tal by am­bu­lance. Vol­un­teers were in tears as med­i­cal staff worked on the luger.

At a packed and som­bre news con­fer­ence, an emo­tional In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent Jac­ques Rogge said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion has be­gun into the cir­cum­stances around the ac­ci­dent that killed Ku­mar­i­tashvili.

“Sorry, it is a bit dif­fi­cult to re­main com­posed,” he said as he started to speak. “This is in­deed a sad day. I have no words to say.”

“We are so heart­bro­ken to be in this po­si­tion,” said John Fur­long, the CEO of Van­cou­ver Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee. “Our team has been dev­as­tated by this.”

The train­ing run – the sec­ond of two sched­uled for yes­ter­day and the fi­nal one be­fore the event’s sched­uled start to­day – was sus­pended.

“All Cana­di­ans were deeply sad­dened to learn of the trag- ic death of Ge­or­gian Olympic team mem­ber No­dar Ku­mar­i­tashvili,” Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper said in a me­dia release.

“His com­pet­i­tive spirit and ded­i­ca­tion to sports ex­cel­lence will be re­mem­bered and hon­oured dur­ing the Games,” Harper said. “On be­half of all Cana­di­ans, Lau­reen and I send our deep­est sym­pa­thies to Mr. Ku­mar­i­tashvili’s fam­ily and friends and the en­tire Ge­or­gian win­ter Olympic team.”

Ge­or­gia’s shell-shocked eight-man team, now re­duced to seven, con­sid­ered pulling out of the Games but de­cided to com­pete in hon­our of Ku­mar­i­tashvili.

“Dur­ing the 2008 sum­mer Olympics Ge­or­gia was in­vaded by Rus­sia and de­spite this they stayed and won sev­eral medals,” said Niko­los Ru­rua, Ge­or­gia’s min­is­ter for sports and cul­ture .

“So our sports­men have de­cided to be loyal to the spirit of the Olympic Games and com­pete and ded­i­cate their ef­forts to their fallen com­rade.”

Ac­cord­ing to Olympic his­to­rian David Wal­lechin­sky, Ku­mar­i­tashvili is the sixth ath­lete to die while com­pet­ing or train­ing for com­pe­ti­tion at an Olympic Games.

Dur­ing the sum­mer Games of 1912, Por­tuguese marathoner Fran­cisco Lazaro, 21, col­lapsed and died the next day.

In 1960, Dan­ish cy­clist Knut Jensen died dur­ing the Olympic road race as a re­sult of in­gest­ing am­phet­a­mines and nicotinyl tar­trate, per­for- mance boost­ers.

Dur­ing the 1964 Inns­bruck Olympics, Aus­tralian down­hill racer Ross Milne, 19, was killed when he flew off the course dur­ing a train­ing run and slammed into a tree. Just be­fore those same games be­gan, Pol­ish-born Bri­tish luger Kaz­imierz Kay-Skrzypeski was killed dur­ing a trial run on the Olympic course.

More re­cently, Swiss speed skier Ni­co­las Bochatay died in train­ing dur­ing the 1992 Games in Al­bertville, France, when speed ski­ing was a demon­stra­tion sport.

The head coach of Canada’s luge team said he was dev­as­tated.

“It’s ter­ri­ble. I’m in shock and I can’t re­ally say any- thing right now,” said Wolf­gang Staudinger. “This is the first time I’ve seen this (a death). It’s very sad. I want to meet with my team be­fore I say any­thing more.”

Staudinger said there would be a meet­ing with In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee and Van­cou­ver or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee of­fi­cials last night to dis­cuss the event’s fu­ture at the 2010 Olympic Games.

Asked if the luge event might be in jeop­ardy, he said: “Hon­estly, any­thing is pos­si­ble.”

This track had been a chal­lenge. Shortly be­fore the crash, U.S. luger Bengt Walden, who had just crashed in his run, said that in­ter­na­tional luge fed­er­a­tion of­fi­cials had al­ready ex­pressed con­cerns about the speed of the track.

“I don’t think they’re go­ing to build faster tracks than this,” he said when asked if this one was at the outer limit of how fast a track can be. “The (fed­er­a­tion) was al­most un­happy with how fast the track turned out to be.”

Mo­ments later, Ku­mar­i­tashvili crashed.

Italy’s Ar­min Zoeggeler, the 2002 and 2006 Olympic cham­pion, crashed in his first run yes­ter­day, but wasn’t hurt. His sled seemed to slide from be­neath him on Cor­ner 11 and he slid for about 200 me­tres. He was able to hold his sled to keep it from crash­ing into his body. He did his sec­ond run and seemed fine.


Ge­or­gian luger No­dar Ku­mar­i­tashvili, 21, suf­fers fa­tal in­juries in 144 km/h crash yes­ter­day at Whistler.

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