Luge Athlete Editorial



A Georgian athlete, Nodar Kumaritashvili, during his final warm-up run in the Winter Sport of Luge was killed yesterday (12th Feb 2010) just before the finish line in Vancouver, Canada. The spinners have already spun their tales of athlete/human error to explain the incident. I cried, yes cried, when I read the news article as the International Luge Federation and Vancouver Olympic officials tried to distance themselves from the incident.


Probe: Olympic track didn't cause luger's death – on


“Human error” they say, but they now adjusting the track: They said they would raise the wall where the slider flew off the track and make an unspecified "change in the ice profile" - but only as a preventative measure "to avoid that such an extremely exceptional accident could occur again."


Yet “Concerns about the lightning-fast course had been raised for months. There were worries that the $100 million-plus venue was too technically difficult, and a lack of significant practice time by everyone but the host nation's sliders would result in a rash of accidents.”


But the International Luge Federation and Vancouver Olympic officials said their investigation showed that the crash was the result of human error and that "there was no indication that the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track."


Really now – I guess the unprotected steel posts, on either side of the track are not a part of the “track”, so they may be technically correct – spin control.


Give me a break – examination of the video shows you have unpadded steel posts within 2 feet of the track where athletes are travelling near 100 mph coming off a sharp curve at the end of the run where the speed is the greatest – and the design of the track (& venue) is not at fault.


In netball we pad the netball support. Why? So that a netballer, travelling at say 5 mph, does not hurt herself during the course of play. I guess it is human error if they crash into an unprotected netball pole, which is on the end of the playing area, and cause themselves an injury.


We take safety in sports too often for granted – until it happens – then we react with half staff flags flown – children fatherless, widowers, a friend gone forever, teammates having the extreme difficulty of competing in that environment, or maybe visiting a hospital room.


“Problems at the track date back to World Cup events and international training weeks held last year, when several of the world's top bobsled drivers were upended trying to make their way down the track with its tricky labyrinth of curves and unprecedented speed. American pilot Steven Holcomb christened one of the course's toughest sections — the 13th curve — as "50-50" to reflect the odds of steering a sled through it cleanly.”


You may say that this does not happen often and it is more dangerous just driving down the road. Really, tell that to a grieving family, friends, teammates, a province and a nation, Georgia. Once is enough! Safety should be the primary and principal concern of any event. What’s the point of a sport event where athletes are exposed to dangerous conditions that could have been ameliorated or mitigated by proper planning and design and having designated safety officials with their only role being the safety of athletes, officials and spectators? As in disaster management there need to be proper “Event Management” in its most complete form that emphases safety first and foremost, then competition secondarily. Mistakes may cause lives or lesser, a career ending major injury.


This is a very sad event and a wakeup call to all sport organizers and event designers. Do we wait tell a javelin spears someone though the heart; a pole-vaulter crashes into oblivion outside the padded area; a hammer decapitates an official or a discus crushed the trachea of a measurement official. Gross eh – yes indeed it is. Preventable – likely! Mitigatable –Yes!


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