Cold hearts at the Winter Olympics

Mike Crissman

“There was no indication that the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track.”

This is the conclusion the International Luge Federation (FIL) and the Vancouver Olympic Committee came to after investigating the cause of death of Georgian Olympic luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

During a practice run one week ago, the 21-year-old luger lost control of his sled at a speed of nearly 90 mph. Kumaritashvili flew out of the track and collided with an unpadded steel pole. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital soon after.

Later that night, the FIL and Olympic committee issued a press release publicly stating that the crash was caused solely by human error. In their statement, they detailed the luger’s exact mistakes: “The athlete came late out of curve 15 and did not compensate properly to make correct entrance into curve 16. Although the athlete worked to correct the problem, he eventually lost control of the sled, resulting in the tragic accident.”

Laying all the blame on Kumaritashvili, while making it clear that their track — the fastest and most dangerous in the world — played no part whatsoever in the accident is insensitive and unsympathetic to the luger’s family, teammates and fans. A cold-hearted statement such as theirs was the last thing those mourning his death needed to hear.

Despite their controversial judgment, the Olympic committee decided to make significant changes to the track they claimed had nothing to do with Kumaritashvili’s death. They have raised the walls at the deadly curve where the Georgian died and made an unspecified “change in the ice profile.” They have also shortened the track by moving the men’s starting point to the women’s and the women’s down to the junior’s.

Of course, these track adjustments beg the question, “Why?” Why would they make so many changes if there were nothing wrong with the track in the first place, as they claimed? It is clear the Olympic committee is at fault.

To add insult to injury, they said the new changes made to the track guarantee the safety of the course and a successful competition at the Vancouver Olympics. Shouldn’t they have guaranteed that safety when they first built the track? They should have, but they didn’t. Instead they built a complex, $105 million rocket launcher where lugers consistently reach speeds of 90 mph and above — the fastest the sport has ever seen.

Many predicted a rash of accidents would occur because of a lack of significant practice time by everyone except the host country. Canada’s “home-court” advantage proved challenging not only for Kumaritashvili, but for many other Olympic lugers as well. Two-time gold medalist Armin Zoeggeler of Italy crashed on the formidable track the same day as Kumaritashvili.

Regardless, the Olympic committee had the nerve to suggest the Georgian’s accident was because of inexperience. They fail to acknowledge the fact that the same thing could have happened to any of the other lugers. The poor track design borders on criminal negligence. Their dangerous ice chute is a crapshoot.

It is the lack of admission of guilt by the FIL and Olympic committee that is the true crime. Their handling of the tragedy and dodging of any blame is an outrage to Kumaritashvili and those who loved him.

They have cast a dark cloud of gloom over what is already the darkest day in the history of the sport of luge.

Mike Crissman is a freshman journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].