Slider’s death sparks track probe
TRAINING CRASH Course is ‘too fast,’ world luge chief says
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.