FanDuel - WFBC

February 12, 2010

Men's Luger Killed in Training Crash at Winter Olympics Track: Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed after losing control of his sled, going over the track wall and hitting a steel pole near the finish line at the Whistler Sliding Center Friday before the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. Emergency crews performed CPR on the 21-year-old athlete, a native of Borjomi, Georgia, but were unable to save his life. Three days ago, British skeleton director Andy Schmid told the Daily Telegraph it was "irresponsible" of Canada to limit foreign athletes to 40 training runs compared to 300 for its own athletes. "Please, let there be no accidents there because that could kill the sport," Schmid said. "People have the argument that it's just home advantage and that's normal for an Olympic host country, but it's different for sports involving high speed."

posted by rcade to olympics at 03:12 PM - 68 comments

This track is the world's fastest, and yesterday's unofficial speed record run prompted some to wonder if it's unsafe, calling for speed limits to be put in place for the next Olympics.

posted by mr_crash_davis at 03:14 PM on February 12

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posted by tommytrump at 03:23 PM on February 12

"I think they are pushing it a little too much," Australia's Hannah Campbell-Pegg said Thursday night after she nearly lost control in training. "To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we're crash-test dummies? I mean, this is our lives."

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posted by cjets at 03:45 PM on February 12

I updated the link with a story with a photo from right before the collision. There wasn't much shot to survive a collision with those metal poles.

posted by rcade at 03:49 PM on February 12

Wow. That is awful.

posted by justgary at 03:59 PM on February 12

Just awful. That thing looks so dangerous. What a horrible start to the games, but much more importantly, just a tragic event.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 04:10 PM on February 12

Unpadded metal poles near the finish line? Isn't there a standard for these tracks and their environs?

posted by irunfromclones at 04:13 PM on February 12

Frankly when looking at the track as it passes by unpadded steel support poles in what looks like a parking structure, I would say it is a terrible design and a real safety issue. There is nothing to prevent a rider for going over the wall and when he does it seems there are a lot of potential obstacles to collide with. Everyone will talk about the speed of the track but I think track design and these poles are the issue more than the speed.

Prediction: 2010 Olympic Luge Event Cancelled due to poor track design

If you look at the part of the track where the accident occured there is really no spectators in that area and therefore no reason the sides of the course could not be high enough to prevent someone from going over the top.

posted by Atheist at 04:15 PM on February 12

I think your prediction will come true, Atheist. As bad as this accident is, how much worse would it be to put another athlete out there who gets hurt or killed?

posted by rcade at 04:32 PM on February 12

Prediction: 2010 Olympic Luge Event Cancelled due to poor track design

Whether it comes true or not, why wasn't this issue addressed prior to the games? Officials had to have known it was a safety concern and they had months and months to take care of it

posted by NerfballPro at 04:33 PM on February 12

I hope this has nothing to do with Canada's questionable decisions about the amount of training time for non-Canadians on the Olympic setups. Cuz that would take poor sportsmanship to a new level.

posted by rumple at 04:35 PM on February 12

There is nothing to prevent a rider for going over the wall and when he does it seems there are a lot of potential obstacles to collide with. Everyone will talk about the speed of the track but I think track design and these poles are the issue more than the speed.

If we are only going by the images from the link, I think we might be fooled by the distance of the poles from the corner. I suspect the lens has compressed the distance so it looks like the poles are right there.

Since the guy was traveling at 140km/h, he probably flew a LONG distance before striking that pole.

Prediction: 2010 Olympic Luge Event Cancelled due to poor track design

Prediction: You're talking out your ass.

posted by grum@work at 04:35 PM on February 12

The video (warning: content) shows that he didn't fly far at all.

posted by rcade at 04:56 PM on February 12

I hope this has nothing to do with Canada's questionable decisions about the amount of training time for non-Canadians on the Olympic setups.

That's already a factor, according to the Toronto Sun: "Officials from other countries have blasted Canadians for not allowing their sliders -- in the sports of luge, skeleton and bobsled -- extended access to the course."

In the link, I added a story from the Daily Telegraph with a prophetic warning from a British skeleton official who called it "irresponsible" for Canada to limit practices by foreign athletes on high-speed events like this one.

posted by rcade at 04:59 PM on February 12

I know next to nothing about luge track design. But placing those unpadded metal poles right next to a track where luge racers will be going up to ninety miles an hour seems like criminal negligence to me.

posted by cjets at 05:00 PM on February 12

Eponysterical?

posted by yerfatma at 05:06 PM on February 12

I'm going to bail out of the discussion on this story since I don't think I can properly distance myself from the topic and the arguments being presented by people at this time ("Blame Canada!"). No matter what I say, it's going to sound like blind faith loyalty for my country to everyone else, so it'll just lead to angrier statements from both sides.

I'll just post this link since I figure someone will add this to the discussion eventually.

posted by grum@work at 05:15 PM on February 12

The video (warning: content) shows that he didn't fly far at all.

Sweet merciful crap.

I assume this is the same course the skeleton racers are supposed to use? The sled sports are probably my favorite winter olympic event to watch, but seems like they should just be scrapped this time around.

posted by Ufez Jones at 05:20 PM on February 12

Although I said that the video shows it was a short distance from the accident to the pole he hit, it's around the same angle as the news photos, so it's possible the distance is a lot longer.

posted by rcade at 05:26 PM on February 12

To me it's not about how far he flew before he hit the pole, but more about that he easily flew that far. I'll assume that he wasn't going far beyond record speed, and as such, if it was possible for him to fly that far, the run design is flawed.

I'll be surprised if they cancel the events, I'll bet that they just add padding, or a wall, in that area.

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posted by dviking at 05:34 PM on February 12

I'll bet that they just add padding, or a wall, in that area.

After watching that video, I'm not sure padding would have helped much. Can they (safely) erect a wall in time to run the course as planned?

posted by Ufez Jones at 05:50 PM on February 12

Ah yes, grum, because the most important thing right now is national pride and reputation, yes? What did you expect - that an accident like this is going to end in accolades? People screwed up, badly, and there will be a lot of hell to pay for that.

Over on Metafilter comes word that the course designers called the corner "50/50," meaning only half the competitors would make the corner.

posted by dusted at 05:59 PM on February 12

Ah yes, grum, because the most important thing right now is national pride and reputation, yes?

Grum didn't say anything of the kind.

posted by rcade at 06:03 PM on February 12

You're right. Sorry grum, I reacted in anger after misreading your comment.

posted by dusted at 06:08 PM on February 12

CTV here have the crash on their website. Of course it's unmarked as to what it actually is so I watched it assuming it was just a luge video and I could see the track, figuring they wouldn't be disgusting enough to put it up without warning.

I was wrong. I'm a hardened racing fan. I watched Roland Ratzenberger die. I saw Senna die. I saw Gregg Moore die. I've seen more than my fair share of fatal accidents sadly.

That luge crash made me feel physically sick. Just one of those incidents where you know it's fatal. Sickening. CTV are scum for putting up what amounts to a snuff film.

posted by Drood at 06:42 PM on February 12

"Blame Canada!"

FWIW, I'm Canadian too (and not the self-hating kind), but this is going to be a huge, huge story if a consensus builds that lack of access contributed to this death.

And,

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posted by rumple at 06:52 PM on February 12

A friend of mine in Vancouver just posted the link to the video on Facebook. Drood, I expressed to him the same sentiment you just did. I hate that shit.

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posted by tahoemoj at 07:47 PM on February 12

Why not just line the (upper) track with the same plexiglass used for hockey rinks? Certainly there is no shortage of it and the skill set needed to install it in Canada.

posted by BoKnows at 12:10 AM on February 13

Well, I too am a proud Canadian, and all I can feel is sadness. It's clearly an accident - no luge participant has ever died in competition. But it certainly seems a poor decision to try to take such an advantage by ensuring less access it would seem.

cjets link bugs me though. The US athlete says all this under anonymity? Nope. Not going to cut it. If you want to make such an accusation I would ask that you stand by your words. That's pretty harsh.

And the end of these opening ceremonies are a bit odd. He's riding in a truck down the street. Also - some of those people are wearing t-shirts.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 12:14 AM on February 13

Just about sums up what a clusterfuck the olympics are. Some brainiac in Vancouver spent $40 million on that ceremony... And yet they thought "Let's hold it here, but have the actual flame all the way across town."

What a fucking joke.

Classy of the entire arena to observer the minutes silence. Proud to be (sort of) Canadian after that, given what usually happens at soccer games under such circumstances.

Still fuck all the media networks who felt the need to show that sickening accident:(

Weedy: The obligatory "anonymous source" so many journalists make shit up and attribute too. Until someone says a name, I don't trust anonymous sources to be anything other than made up bullshit. You have an accusation? Have the balls so step up and say it. (Assuming this isn't just made up.)

posted by Drood at 01:56 AM on February 13

And yet they thought "Let's hold it here, but have the actual flame all the way across town."

Where's Vancouver's 50,000-seat outdoor arena, though? It's only needed for the opening ceremony, since there's no central stadium needed for the Winter Olympics, and Turin could use Torino FC's ground, Salt Lake City the field of the Utes, Nagano the baseball field, and so on.

On topic: when you do the reckoning, the winter games have a higher proportion of "events where you could end up dead", but it's still shocking when it happens. These are people who make themselves masters of speed and danger.

I feel sorry for the sliders. There are going to be some pretty heated discussions between participants, national committees, VANOC and the IOC over what's necessary to have people compete in confidence, and this isn't like the big leagues or professional cycling when an accident of this magnitude is usually followed by a go-slow. The competitors in these events -- less so those on the X-Games circuit -- are often reliant upon their national bodies for funding, and may feel under pressure to take part. On the other hand, no official wants to return home with a coffin.

A final point: even if "Own The Podium" didn't contribute directly to this tragedy, everything that it encompassed in the lead-up to the Games is going to be placed under heavy scrutiny over the next two weeks, and every non-Canadian competitor who feels under-prepared is going to get a chance to share those complaints with the media, esp. the American media, given NBC's personality-driven broadcasting model.

posted by etagloh at 02:48 AM on February 13

I couldn't believe how many times they replayed the crash on NBC last night, and from my viewing position (having dinner at a sports bar) it didn't look like they did much in the way of warning viewers to the graphic content. Given the numbers of families, and thus children, that should have been expected to be viewing the program at that time, I was shocked by this.

They replayed it at least three times, and even threw in a very bloody shot of a EMT working on Kumaritashvili. Overboard, sensationalistic journalism if you ask me. But, that seems par for the course these days.

posted by dviking at 11:31 AM on February 13

Man, all the padding in the world couldn't have saved that guy. That was horrible. Awful. Plexiglass the whole damn thing would make a huge difference.

posted by aacheson at 12:54 PM on February 13

And thats just not right that they limited track time to other so much. thats just wrong. I don't know if its just this olympics or what, but this should not be allowed.

posted by aacheson at 12:57 PM on February 13

Officials says athlete, not track, caused crash.

From the article:

"The crash that resulted in the death of the luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili was caused by his errors on the course and not a deficiency in the Whistler Sliding Centre course, the Olympic organizing committee and the sport's international governing body said in a joint statement issued late Friday."

It's hard to believe that those unpadded metal poles right next to the track were not a "deficiency" in the course. Especially when (as can be seen in the photo with the article) a large wall has been hastily erected in front of the unpadded metal poles. I think this is a whitewash and these guys are talking out of both sides of their mouth.

That being said, I don't blame Canada.* I blame the individuals involved, particularly those people who thought it would be a good idea to have those unpadded metal poles right alongside the track after the lugers were coming out of the 50/50 turn (the most dangerous turn on the track) at 90 MPH. And if this happened in the U.S., I would be saying the same thing.

* When I hear Blame Canada!, this is the only thing I think of.

posted by cjets at 01:18 PM on February 13

It's been reported that the men's luge is going to go ahead, but using the women's start -- though the organisers' attempts to blame the victim in order to acquit the track come off as very cold, and very Olympic.

posted by etagloh at 01:20 PM on February 13

from the article cjets linked to: The technical officials of the FIL were able to retrace the path of the athlete and concluded there was no indication that the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track."
While officials did not fault the track, they did make alterations to the course. The Whistler Sliding Centre has created concern since opening in 2007 for its high speeds and frequent crashes.


So, if an athlete doesn't run a perfect route they run the risk of death? And, that's not a design flaw? I understand that the luge is a dangerous sport on any track, but given this track's short, yet dangerous, history, I think the technical officals screwed up.

posted by dviking at 02:27 PM on February 13

My understanding is that the "50/50"turn is number 13, whereas the accident here occurred at turn 16. And I would hope that everyone throwing out hyperbole has investigated any of these claims - most dangerous, fastest. Because according to the official I saw interviewed today, it isn't the fastest or most dangerous, and the Canadian aren't the first to try to snake (and I do mean snake) a home-field advantage by limiting training time.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 04:43 PM on February 13

I wonder if part of the problem is that those stupid poles are next to the finish area, the straight coming in to the flat section where the lugers sit up and stop, and that is an area no-one expected to see any crashes.

I've seen luge crashes before (the CBC coverage of the World Cup sliding used to fascinate me, no more) but every time I've seen someone leave the track it was bailing out of a corner, not a straight and never anywhere near the finish line straight. I've seen reports that the track is not only extremely fast but also has an unconventional layout - the most technical corners are also the fastest, at the bottom of the track. What looks like something obviously dangerous to us - metal poles next to the track - didn't look life-threatening to the designers/competitors/luge federation becasue they have no experience with a track that could deliver an out-of-control slider over the finish line with enough energy to bounce out of the slow-down area.

Looking at photos like this, or this, or this there seems to be an awful lot of immovable objects very close to the track at the end of any bobsled track.

posted by deflated at 05:06 PM on February 13

Weedy: to quote Georg Hackl, three time champion: "It's a track that's significantly faster than any other tracks that we know.

posted by deflated at 05:10 PM on February 13

Non anonymous allegation of a problem with the training time allocated on the luge run:

In normal times perhaps, but in the run-up to these games, the hosts or at least the Canadian Olympic Committee seemed to have mislaid their manners. "Own the podium," it implored its athletes in an initiative aimed at ensuring the host nation finishes at the top of the medals table at these games. Money has been poured into training, while a hard-edged approach has been adopted in dealing with other teams, most noticeably in granting them only limited access to facilities such as the sliding track.

Such behaviour is within the Olympic rules, but it came across as distinctly un-Canadian at the time, and in the context of Friday's death it seemed like a terrible misjudgment. Steven Holcomb of the US bobsleigh team said: "This track is one of the fastest and most difficult in the world, so I think keeping it closed and not letting people have access made it very difficult. Then you have Olympic ice, which is even faster. Little mistakes become big mistakes, and big mistakes end in tragedy.''

posted by rumple at 05:41 PM on February 13

At the risk of setting myself up as a blaming-the-victim punching bag: since Nodar Kumaritashvili's death, focus has been on the track and procedures around the track -- appropriately so, IMO, at least as an initial reaction. Those are things we can control or at least do something about at this point. But Kumaritashvili was not, by all accounts, a highly experienced luger. You can call the official reaction "blaming the victim" if you wish...but is it not possible that the major contributing factor to the accident was simply inexperience? I know that that charge has been denied, but where's the argument to refute it? Or if you don't like the word "inexperience", how about "he made a mistake and died as a result"? When an unprotected human moves at those speeds, nothing can make it a safe activity. "Safer", yes -- "safe", no.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 06:24 PM on February 13

And I would hope that everyone throwing out hyperbole has investigated any of these claims - most dangerous, fastest.

With a vertical drop of 152 metres, greater than any other facility in the world, the Whistler track is acknowledged as the fastest there is, but there are fears it will also prove the most dangerous....With a start that is almost vertical, corners that plunge the depth of three-storey buildings and a finishing curve that subjects sliders to a bigger G-force than that experienced in F1, the 1,450-metre track has been described by one coach as "an elevator shaft with ice". Quite apart from its drop, propelling sleds to top speeds of 150kph (93mph), it has 16 of the most technically challenging curves in the world. They arrive so quickly at the bottom of the track that athletes are forced to rely on instinct to find the correct lines.

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Bobsled, luge and skeleton athletes who have tested the course at Whistler in the last two years have widened their eyes when talking about the speeds generated on the track. Luge sleds generally peak in the mid-80s at other tracks but have hit the high 90s at Whistler. After a luger went a record 95.65 mph at a test event on the course last year, Josef Fendt, president of the International Luge Federation, expressed concerns that the track was too fast. "It makes me worry." Kumaritashvili's crash confirms those fears. "It's not necessary to do the sport of luge at [96 mph]," says Christoph Schweiger, secretary general of the Austrian luge federation, who was at the course when Kumaritashvili's accident occurred. "To do the sport [in the 80-85 mph range] is fast enough."

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Fendt previously expressed concern over the speeds at the Whistler Sliding Centre during international training and suggested a speed limit should be implemented at any new tracks.

"This is not in the interest of our International Luge Federation and it makes me worry," Fendt said in December, adding: "We've always assumed, that on principle, top sleds of 135 or 136 kilometers per hour should be possible. But we don't reckon with such a leap."

posted by cjets at 06:33 PM on February 13

But Kumaritashvili was not, by all accounts, a highly experienced luger.

I think there's no question that his inexperience was a factor in his death.

But should the penalty for his inexperience be death? And did the designers of this course and the people who approved the design take into account the fact that there would be some inexperienced lugers at the olympics? Because if they didn't, they're just ignoring reality.

On NBC last night, one of the luge announcers said that he wasn't worried about the top 12 lugers in the world. They could handle the course. It was lugers 13 and on that he was worried about.

It seems to me that the designers of this course should have been thinking about lugers 13 and on as well.

posted by cjets at 06:48 PM on February 13

great point cjets. I can understand a course that penalizes a lesser competitor, but not one that kills them.

posted by dviking at 07:18 PM on February 13

But should the penalty for his inexperience be death?

There's no "should" about it where the laws of physics are involved.

Speaking more generally and beyond luge -- Kumaritashvili was, after all, a competitor on the World Cup circuit -- one problem with the Olympics is that, in keeping with the Olympic ideal, just about every country that can get there is allowed to field a team. Nearly 25% of the countries represented in this Olympics have only a single athlete. On occasion, these are legitimate world-class competitors, but a lot of time, they just aren't. Maybe that ain't no big deal in curling or cross-country skiing, but when you're talking about ski jumping or downhill or luge, you've got competitors that are at least a couple of grades below the majority of the field. So what's the answer? Dummy down the course to those athletes' level? In ski racing, Olympic courses are sometimes called baby courses, and the elites resent having to compete on an easier hill where the thing that makes them elite matters much less. You can only take such measures so far without risking the integrity of the competition, or its value to the true elite athlete.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 08:12 PM on February 13

So what's the answer? Dummy down the course to those athletes' level?

That seems to be what they've done in response to Kumaritashvili's death. I saw an American luger interviewed today during NBC's main Olympics broadcast and he said the event is "boring" now because of the safety changes.

posted by rcade at 08:28 PM on February 13

one problem with the Olympics is that, in keeping with the Olympic ideal, just about every country that can get there is allowed to field a team.

I'm a big fan of the Olympic ideal. It's inclusiveness is one of the things that makes it so special. I would hate to see it become a elitist tournament of the wealthier nations.

That said, I understand that it's a difficult balancing act between the olympic ideal of inclusiveness and creating a course or hill that is challenging enough for the best athletes in the world.

But, back to the specific, I don't think limiting lugers to 85 MPH is dumbing down the course. There are safety precautions and restrictions on speed in other sports. Why not luge?

I'll quote Fendt again (from Selena Roberts column)

Already, Joseph Fendt, the president of the World Luge Federation, has told the London Daily Telegraph, "We think this is a planning mistake." He went on to say the course was never supposed to leave lugers maxing out at speeds above 85 mph.

posted by cjets at 08:45 PM on February 13

Well that was a fairly quick investigation before they blamed the victim. Even the FAA normally takes months before announcing the inevitable pilot error reasoning. It's all about avoiding lawsuits and higher insurance premiums now.

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posted by Newbie Walker at 09:43 PM on February 13

Anyone, experienced or not can make a mistake. Blaming the athlete in this case is beyond despicable.

posted by irunfromclones at 11:26 PM on February 13

Even the FAA normally takes months before announcing the inevitable pilot error reasoning.

I think you'll find air crash investigation in the US is undertaken by the NTSB. Also, pilot error is not always the 'inevitable' outcome, if you read their reports.

I worked with air crash investigators in Indonesia, and they pointed out to me that accidents are always the result of a chain of circumstances. But the media, victims' families, the public, the legal profession etc are always looking for a single cause or explanation, or perhaps someone to blame. I guess that's human nature.

In this case it's easy to see a range of contributing factors - the course design and the inexperience of the slider have been mentioned already. There may have been others that we don't even know about.

The important thing is to get off our high horses and learn from any mistakes, so that in future when someone goes out to compete in a sport they love, there's only the smallest possible chance they'll come home in a box.

posted by owlhouse at 11:35 PM on February 13

lil_brown_bat: after Eddie the Eagle made ski jumping look silly, in order to compete at the Olympics you have to be in the top 30% or the top 50 competitors in your discipline, whichever is smaller. Kumaritashvili met those requirements; he had two years on the world circuit and who knows how many thousands of training runs leading up to the Vancouver Olympics.

If they have to 'soften' a course for that small group of elites then the design is wrong.

And on the cause of the accident, apparently the critical point was the entry to the final corner - he made his turn late and after that it was all physics (see the Hackl interview I linked above for one version).

posted by deflated at 11:37 PM on February 13

deflated's photo

That's the slow down area. As you can see, it's after coming over a hill, well after the finish line.

There is absolutely no way that a luge is going any faster than 20 mph at that point.

That's like saying the garages at the Daytona 500 are dangerous areas.

posted by grum@work at 11:48 PM on February 13

Grum, I was actually interested in the background of that photo, which appears to have the final turn plus flagpoles, etc. next to the track. This shows what I mean better, but I wanted to show a variety of tracks. They all seem to have some unforgiving hardware between the final turn and the slow-down area.

posted by deflated at 12:13 AM on February 14

Anything remotely sounding like support for the "it's the athlete's fault" is mind-bogglingly disturbing. It seems entirely possible that this kid's inexperience played a factor, but that certainly does not forgive the people who had every chance and expectation to know better.

You've got multiple officials, experts, participants of the sport calling this track out for being unnecessarily fast and dangerous. These same people have a vested interest in the sport not receiving a black eye. So, wouldn't it be easiest for these folks to come out with "it's a tragedy, but noone could've accounted for the technical mistakes this athlete made"? Instead, we're supposed to ignore them and put our support behind officials who have an undeniable dog-in-the-hunt and are trying to save face?

There's no "should" about it where the laws of physics are involved.
What?! Considering human engineering had a direct relation to the extent of the severity of the "laws of physics" that have become involved with this track, "should" seems like a ridiculously reasonable question. If all of the negativity toward the track was coming as hindsight, that might be one thing. But it sure appears as though these concerns were raised long before this accident. Again, people that seem like they should know are claiming that this kind of track is simply unnecessary for the integrity of the sport. But, by all means, let's ignore that and go for the extreme and cater to the most minuscule amount of competitors that want to show off their machismo. Seems like there's a very fine line between "elite" and "elitist" here.

Cripes, if suing a baseball bat company for the tragic death of a kid who was struck by a hit ball is justified (I'm not saying it is, but plenty of folks on this site felt so), then I'm at a loss for words regarding the hypocrisy of the people responsible for this track (not the whole of Canada, grum) not being held somewhat accountable.

posted by littleLebowski at 12:19 AM on February 14

Well, I was not exactly impressed with Brian Williams' "the Winter Olympics: where the competitors are batshit crazy" piece. As I said upthread, when you think about the winter events, they're certainly faster and more dangerous than the summer ones (assuming that the shooters and archers know where they're aiming). But there's a very thin line between celebrating the courage of those taking part -- as someone who grew up watching the end of Franz Klammer's remarkable career, I can buy into that -- and depicting them as adrenalin junkies who are basically courting death whenever they compete.

I think that's partly because the sliding sports and Alpine skiing are basically absent from network (or even standard cable) sporting schedules in the US. You'll get figure skating and X Games and hockey, but the rest only comes into focus every four years. In Britain, though the glory days of Ski Sunday are past, it's still on the BBC, and that's accompanied by a greater general respect and awareness of winter sports.

posted by etagloh at 01:22 AM on February 14

It was tasteless for the IOC and the sport of luge's governing body to immediately come out with a statement blaming the athlete before any kind of investigation has been conducted. But is anyone surprised? The Olympics organization has been corrupt and self-serving for years. They're trying to ensure the profitability and popularity of the games.

His accident may prove to be the result of his own error on the course, though I think the press is overplaying his inexperience. He was 44th in the world in his sport. But the fatal consequences of that accident are unquestionably a factor of the course design coming out of that turn. If it comes out that none of the athletes who were practicing on it reported that potential risk, I'll be surprised.

posted by rcade at 09:28 AM on February 14

The New York Times has produced an eight-image infographic that shows more detail on how and where the crash occurred. Note: The last image is of the moment before he struck the column. Otherwise, the content is non-objectionable.

posted by rcade at 01:17 PM on February 14

Well that was a fairly quick investigation before they blamed the victim.

Anyone, experienced or not can make a mistake. Blaming the athlete in this case is beyond despicable.

Anything remotely sounding like support for the "it's the athlete's fault" is mind-bogglingly disturbing.

Are any of you aware that there's a very large difference between the concept of blame or fault, and the concept of cause and effect?

Something to think about.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 03:26 PM on February 14

MAybe it was the sliders fault, maybe not, but the course should be designed to protect them.

A small driver error should not mean death in any sport.

posted by Debo270 at 11:07 AM on February 15

Kumaritashvili said a few days before his death he was terrified of the track, according to his father.

posted by rcade at 12:27 PM on February 15

Something to think about.

You're a valued contributor to this site, deservedly so, but good gravy, you have an occasional knack for telling people what we need to think about.

Yes, I (and I would bet others) understand the difference between "blame" versus cause-and-effect.

Cause = You've warned your kid a million times to "check and double-check" when they're driving, but they forget to do so this time and start backing up without paying attention to everything around them.
Effect = As you're standing in your yard, watching your kid leave in the family car, they accidentally back over your family pet.
Blame = "Hey, you're an inexperienced driver and you know you've got to be careful. So, even though I was standing right there and probably could've helped avoid this, I'm going to rub salt in the wound by pointing out that your dog is dead solely because of YOU."

In the case of the luger, his inexperience and error played a part in this, from all accounts. Not disputing that. The reprehensible part of this is the immediate deflection and lack of ownership by individuals/organizations who were previously approached and could've known better than to allow this track and safety precautions to continue as-is.
Death is a disproportionate "effect" of this.

posted by littleLebowski at 12:52 PM on February 15

The problem with "blaming" the course design is that a person won't normally be able to pop out of the course at that point. It was a fluke.

How many other crashes have happened at the final corner? According to some, there have been a few crashes at least. Has ANYONE indicated (during those crashes) that there was any chance of this happening?

All other crashes involving the luge have the person coming off their sled and then sliding around inside the track (and getting injured bouncing into walls).

This incident involved the same thing, but ended with a fluke where the sled got between him and the wall and catapulted him off the course. If he hits the wall by himself, he stays in the course. If he hits the wall while still ON the sled, he stays in the course. If he hits the wall leaning the other direction, he stays in the course.

posted by grum@work at 03:09 PM on February 15

I heard on the radio they didn't just raise the wall, but they "changed the profile of the ice" at that point. I wonder if they inadvertently had a bit of a launching ramp going on?

posted by rumple at 07:15 PM on February 15

grum: The problem with "blaming" the course design is that a person won't normally be able to pop out of the course at that point. It was a fluke.

But this course wasn't normal, was it? The designers, safety officials and various international bodies deserve all the blame for designing a course to be the fastest ever, placing steel girders right next to the track, then ignoring safety concerns.

Key figures in F1 hit out at Olympic luge track design

"The International Luge Federation [FIL] is where Formula One was 40 years ago the whole mindset is wrong," he said.

Echoing his views, Sir Jackie Stewart, the three-time Formula One world champion, said that the sport of luge had been lucky not to have lost more athletes, given the lack of attention to basic safety precautions. "I think the sport has, fortunately, got off for years without too many fatalities or very serious injuries," Stewart said.

The Scot, who has been a tireless campaigner for improvements in safety in motor sport, said that he was very surprised that the track designers in Canada had clearly not considered the possibility of a luger leaving the track, out of control. "It was clear to me that whoever designed the track hadn't seen the potential of either an athlete or a sled getting out of the race track, because at 90mph the dynamics of it are incredible, never mind the human factor," Stewart said. "Clearly it was almost impossible for the luger to miss hitting one of the metal girders on the edge of the racing line because of the angle at which he came off."

Stewart was amazed to see that alongside the Whistler track were unprotected girders on to which the Georgian luger was flung, causing fatal head injuries.

"Had it been motor sport, there would have been a debris fence [chain-link fencing], to stop a sled or a rider from coming into contact with those sort of structures," he said. "If that was in place the luger would have suffered serious injuries because of the speed of the impact, but the elasticity in the fencing would have enabled him to survive."

posted by dusted at 08:21 PM on February 17

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