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Questions that must be asked after tragic death

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James Pearce | 00:36 UK time, Sunday, 14 February 2010

When you arrive in a city to cover an Olympics you always know that at some stage during the Games something totally unexpected is going to happen that will make headlines around the world.

Often that story can be an uplifting one, but tragically on Friday it was quite the reverse. Vancouver had spent seven years getting ready to host the world's best winter athletes, yet just hours before the Opening Ceremony one of them died.

As John Furlong, the chief executive of the Games said, "It's not something I prepared for, or ever thought I would have to be prepared for."

Of course nobody could have predicted the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili at the luge track, but that doesn't mean that it couldn't have been avoided.

The Vancouver organisers put out a statement that same evening implying it was the Georgian's fault, claiming that he "came late out of curve 15 and did not compensate properly to make correct entrance into curve 16".Nodar Kumaritashvili
Nodar Kumaritashvili had taken part in five World Cup races this season. Photograph: Getty

The conclusion was that the track was safe and that the competition could continue.

In many ways, though, the most pertinent comment has come from the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, who is in Vancouver. He argued that no human error should lead to the death of an athlete.

That's a sentiment with which many will agree. Yes, of course some winter sports are dangerous, but does that mean that athletes should have to risk their lives to fulfil their dreams of competing at an Olympics?

There's been much talk in Vancouver about the Canadians' campaign to 'Own the Podium'. That has been the name of their attempt to do everything in their power (legally it must be said) to win their first ever Olympic gold medal on home soil.

They've limited the amount of practice time for foreign athletes at many of the venues. It seems harsh, though, to blame that policy for what happened at the luge track. The Georgian had had 26 previous runs on it.

The difficulty for those organising an Olympics is this: They're determined to build facilities that test the best in the world, yet at the same time they need to be aware that the IOC doesn't want the Games to be elitist, so there can be a large variable in standard between the best and worst in any event.

If that balance goes wrong then a track that is testing for the very best in the world could end up being dangerous for others.

I put that point to the IOC President Jacques Rogge at his press conference after the accident on Friday. I asked him if he believed that a track at an Olympics should actually be easier than those at other major events, so that less experienced athletes could compete.

Rogge batted my question away, saying that it was too early to discuss such things, and he was probably right to do so. It's an issue, though, that will have to be debated once these Games are over.

Nodar Kumaritashvili was no novice. He had taken part in five World Cup races this season. He was, though, still far less experienced than many of his fellow competitors.

It's a sad fact of life that accidents happen, but if this man's death is not to be in vain, then the IOC must determine if it could have been avoided.

Comments

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  • 1. At 02:49am on 14 Feb 2010, dennisons wrong foot -99 wrote:

    Two comments; firstly compare the luge track with a grand prix track - sand pits and rubber tyres everywhere. If you come off the track in a grand prix you should survive. This guy came of the luge track and flew straight into a post which seemed to have no padding at all. Maybe padding would not have been enough, but it must be an absolute minimum where there is any possibility of an athlete failing 'to compensate properly'. Perhaps the track should even be completely enclosed so that flying off is impossible.

    Secondly I don't know about UK TV but here in the US they showed the accident again and again. It was totally sickening to see and something that should never be shown on TV - especially knowing that the poor guy was killed.

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  • 2. At 03:31am on 14 Feb 2010, njackson118 wrote:

    Agree with dennison (1.) about how luge tracks should be fully enclosed. That way, there isnt even the possibility of anything like this happening again.

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  • 3. At 03:49am on 14 Feb 2010, martyvdb wrote:

    Thank you for your factual and nonsensationalistic editorial regarding this tragedy.
    I am a Vancouverite and feel ashamed for our appointed committee's lack of conmsideration on this track given it's history.
    The athlete's death is very tragic.
    The track is faster than necessary, and has produced more injuries than others which had already drawn much criticism to date.
    Though it is true that the odds were incredibly minute of the actual logistics happening the way they did which caused his death, it is also true that the track is (now, was) too unsafe for the given activity.
    I have heard people suggesting pading the posts - at the speed infolved, I do not think padding would have helped any. Either the walls need to be raised, the ice modified, or a superior form pof safety barrier put in place (some form of net?)
    I am angered by the response that was given, but grateful that some action has been taken. It is unfortunate that it happened too late.

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  • 4. At 04:12am on 14 Feb 2010, wesley ross wrote:

    As a designer i cannot understand the logic in having a line of steel poles right next to a ice track. Was it inconceivable to the authorities that a man can fly off his luge at around 80 mph with basically no protection?

    We need to start thinking ahead, designing preventative instead of reactive.

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  • 5. At 04:15am on 14 Feb 2010, TheTomTyke wrote:

    I'm baffled by the fact there were huge concrete posts right next to the track. Padding them is not the answer, they shouldn't have been there at all. Absolutely ridiculous.

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  • 6. At 04:16am on 14 Feb 2010, Lewis Wiltshire wrote:

    An answer to dennisons_wrong_foot (comment number one) - the BBC has chosen to not show the accident, although we are aware some broadcasters around the world have done so.

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  • 7. At 05:44am on 14 Feb 2010, Ed wrote:

    It's tragic whenever, where ever someone dies. Luge is not the only sport where a participant has lost their life. Formula One and other sports have tragic episodes of their own.

    The Georgian President was correct when he said no human error should lead to the death of an athlete. But you know what? As the original post says, accidents happen, and not just in sports.

    The key is to learn from the past and minimize risk to an acceptable level for the future.

    Regarding BBC's decision to not broadcast video of the accident, I'm relieved. I haven't seen it and I have no desire to. Reading about it was bad enough.

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  • 8. At 06:06am on 14 Feb 2010, Jack Fitzgerald wrote:

    Yes, this is a tragedy. And my heart goes out to the family and friend s of Kumaritashvili, it is always sad when someone so young has their life taken due to such an accident. But it being the fault of the Vancouver organisers? What a load of rubbish. All competitors know the risks when they compete. Someone earlier on this board compared luge to F1. This is a silly comparison in my view - F1 drivers have more protection on them than any other sportsman, their tracks are sanitised to the point that crashes not only happen very rarely but since the Senna tragedy are never going to be fatal except in freak circumstances (as with Massa). Luge competitors have no protection except a fairly flimsy helmet, yet they throw themselves down a run at 80mph. Sorry if I sound naive but do they do so without the expectation that at some point injury is a distinct possibility? I'm banking on the fact that the steel poles were either to hold up the track or to support floodlights/tv cameras, it is not as if they were put there for show. Kumaritashvili made a mistake in his run, which turned out to be a fatal one. If a gymnast makes a mistake, they could land badly and seriously injure themselves, or even be killed. F1 drivers face the risk of death at every corner if they make a mistake, even today. But the same risks exist for rugby players, boxers, american football players... just on a smaller scale because the sport has done all it can to remove this risk. Luge, skeleton and bobsleigh doesn't seem to have removed the risk directly. But competing at the top of any sport carries risks. I'm sorry if I sound heartless but blaming the organisers for not anticipating the mistake of a competitor for a death occurring in such a dangerous sport is not entirely fair. A fair number of the winter olympic events are dangerous - skeleton, bobsleigh, ski jumping, downhill and super G as well as luge are all dangerous by definition. If someone is killed in a crash at the peak of their discipline they should know the risks by then.
    One of the competitors summed it up when he said - "this is a dangerous sport, but we choose to do it."

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  • 9. At 07:57am on 14 Feb 2010, WorldCupMadness wrote:

    I first visited a bob/luge track at Innsbruck in the 80's. All the tracks are the same apart from the cresta run.

    Artificial concrete monsters with deadly debris everywhere if anyone comes out of the track.

    The sports of luge, bog and skeleton are very very safe, provided you are in the track, and equally very very deadly if you come out the track.

    Downhill skiing learnt that people will crash in unexpected places after some one died hitting some intermediate timing posts.

    At Kitzbuehel there was a complete redesign of the course surroundings. No longer the flying 70 meters down the Mausefalle 1 meter off and 3 meters above a fence of wooden stakes with rocks on the other side, after 2 people did cartwheels down the fence and one went over and did them down the rocks. The course was not changed at the time since they were not seriously injured and only "novices" would make the mistake.

    In all Dangerous sports the safety is always reactive. Not proactive. Kitzbuehel did not change until after a death in Wengen, and a review to remove the deadly obstacles around all the courses. The Mausefalle issue was already well known, and so finally dealt with. The fence issue that caused the death in Wengen, had already occurred in Kitzbuhel, but was not corrected until someone died.

    The bob/luge tracks now need a similar review. There are solid metal fences lining the track, along with the posts and other items outside the tracks. It is clear that no thought has gone into what happens if someone comes out of the track, and whilst tracks are designed to keep people in, the unexpected will always occur occasionally, and I know that a few times each season people come out of the track.

    They should not risk death each time they come out of the track.

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  • 10. At 08:43am on 14 Feb 2010, John Dudman wrote:

    Yes, this is a dangerous sport but it is a SPORT and should not present foreseeable and fatal consequences to any competitor making an error. Any risk assessment would identify that a competitor leaving the track in that section has only one place to go and that is into a pillar. I wonder if this is an area which, on competition days, will have spectators. If so it is not just the competitors who are at risk of death. Surely there is a sheeted acrylic type material, as used at ice hockey rinks, which could be used to line this section and to direct the luge and pilot back onto the track where they may suffer injury, and yes may even die, but the error will still mean they are not going to gain advantage over those riding the track successfully.

    Alternatively, lets take those nets away from the the perimeters of the downhill ski runs and have some real fun. Wouldn't make sense would it?

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  • 11. At 09:20am on 14 Feb 2010, Ron Taylor wrote:

    @1 and @2

    Agree totally.

    BBC TV did not show the accident.
    Not sure about Sky.


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  • 12. At 09:32am on 14 Feb 2010, Stargazer wrote:

    I too was wondering why there was a steel post there. As has been pointed out, at those speeds padding is not the answer, but then, the post should not have been there at all and was an obvious danger.

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  • 13. At 09:38am on 14 Feb 2010, smat31 wrote:

    This is such a sad outcome, and I really feel for his family, friends and teammates.

    I do disagree with sentiments that these sports should somehow be 'made safe', regardless of it's impact on the nature of the sport itself. Risk assessments should of course be carried out - these athletes should not have to accept needless risk (not sure myself whether padding would have helped here, however I'd challenge anyone to confidently assert that this seemingly simple measure would be ineffective in 100% of accidents).

    But when we start saying that any risk to life - even if it is inherent in the specific and activity accepted by informed adults - is unacceptable, we start to remove one of the factors which drive these athletes on in the first place.

    If a snowboarder comes out of a big half-pipe wrong, or if a skier times a jump badly they can easily break a neck, but does that mean you reduce the height of the jump? Decrease the gradient of the pipe? With no wish whatsoever to appear insensitive to the loss of human life, what would people recommend regards the luge track? Make it slower?

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  • 14. At 10:07am on 14 Feb 2010, PabloPabloPablo wrote:

    Every sport has a professional association that should have the knowledge about safe design and best practice. Who did VANOC consult with when they built this track? Did the IOC sign it off without consulting the experts?

    Humans make mistakes; those on the luge and those that design the facilities. Somebody died, it shouldn't happen, the worst thing we could ever do is not to do something. VANOC moved the start and boarded up the area, is this enough? Only the luge participants and their professional body can make that decision.

    Hurtling down a sheet of ice on a tea tray is highly dangerous. Let's hope Nodar Kumaritashvili is the impetus to save lives.

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  • 15. At 10:11am on 14 Feb 2010, dawhandle wrote:

    I do find it surprising that the organisers have decided to continue using that track. Will it be modified? Have they carried out a documented risk analysis (mentioned #13 above)? If they haven't, they will leave themselves wide open to litigation if any further serious accidents occur.
    I think everybody realises the danger of having the unprotected steel columns adjacent to the track, so surely they will put some thick perspex or boarding in front of them. Competitors often come off their luges, but so long as there is a smooth surface, usually ice, injuries will be minimal.

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  • 16. At 10:17am on 14 Feb 2010, Stargazer wrote:

    smal31 (#13) that is precisely what has been done after the safety review. The track was about 20km/h faster than intended and that is what makes the margins on those turns so tight.

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  • 17. At 10:22am on 14 Feb 2010, flooch wrote:

    How can you make a sport where people fly down snow/ice at 70mph 100% safe? Obviously, you can't.

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  • 18. At 10:25am on 14 Feb 2010, davidcharlesh wrote:

    Beyond the obvious sadness at the tragedy, my alarm bells go off at this: "Rogge batted my question away, saying that it was too early to discuss such things, and he was probably right to do so. It's an issue, though, that will have to be debated once these Games are over." Not disturbing the smooth running of The Games is paramount. Must not let a death get in the way. And then it will be too late to say. Horrors.

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  • 19. At 10:38am on 14 Feb 2010, Jordan D wrote:

    @LewisWiltshire, @RonTaylor & Others - whilst the BBC & Sky chose not to show it, I was flipping between the build up to the opening ceremony & BBC News/Sky News: in the middle of the night they rebroadcast 30minutes of "evening news" from their respective US broadcast partners (ABC & CBS respectively) and unfortunately, at least one (I think CBS) was showing the crash from multiple angles. Seemed a bit of a juxtopostion after saying they weren't going to show the crash.

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  • 20. At 10:43am on 14 Feb 2010, Pedantique wrote:

    There is a fairly simply HS&E principle, risks should be ALARP (As Low As Reasonably Practicable).

    In the case of Luge as a high speed, elite level competitive sport you can't rule out deaths or serious injury if they come out of their luge or hit one of the ice walls.

    However just because luge is inherently dangerous doesn't mean it is OK add unnecessary dangers to the track.

    Coming out of the track and hitting a solid object is totally unacceptable. To remove that risk of that happening would not damage the competition, the excitement of the event for the viewing public or add a disproportionate cost to create the facilities.

    This shouldn't have taken somebody to die to work that out, a fairly simple HS&E audit should have picked it up.

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  • 21. At 11:29am on 14 Feb 2010, Dave Ryan wrote:

    I appreciate the point of view that a sport such as the luge carries inherent dangers, and that there is no means by which to make the event entirely safe. It is impossible to do so when speeds of over 80mph on a solid ice run are involved. However, as has already been said it should not have taken an athlete dying to point out to them that having exposed steel girders so close to the track is a pretty bad idea. A crash barrier or padding may not have prevented Kumaritashvili sustaining serious injuries, but it would probably have stopped him from dying. We cannot reasonably expect athletes to face a high risk of death should they get a turn wrong - and that, ultimately, is all Kumaritashvili was guilty of. I am not an advocate of knee-jerk reactions to risk, but I do believe quite strongly that the regulations concerning track design are in need of review. That is the only way we are going to reduce the risk of this happening again.

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  • 22. At 11:34am on 14 Feb 2010, la nina wrote:

    I really think that this tragic event was a result of unsafe ice track. Organizers should have determined earlier that unpadded steel poles could pose huge threat to life and health of lugers, as their speed during the competition is exteremely high... it is really pity that my compatriot became victim of that gaffe..we all grieve his death, Rest in Peace, Nodar :(((( nina, Georgia

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  • 23. At 11:43am on 14 Feb 2010, Adam wrote:

    To me something completely different is important. It's obvious that in dangerous sports tragedies do occur. I think the athletes are fully aware of the risk and take the chance. Whether the track was safe or not, it's not me to judge. What I am disgusted with though is that such a tragedy is generally drowned in a wave of purely sporting emotions of a huge event Olympics is. I cannot accept the "okay it happened but life goes on and we have the great event here to enjoy" attitude. To me the tragedy right before the grand opening ceremony may have been an act of God showing that the Olympic madness and the human pride connected with its grandiosity have just gone too far.

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  • 24. At 11:46am on 14 Feb 2010, Mike wrote:

    As regards showing the accident on TV...I did see it on the French news and whilst my initial reaction was that it should never be shown, in hindsight I think it was actually good in a perhaps unintended way: It makes it absolutely clear to the wider public that the track is unacceptably unsafe to the degree of negligence. It does not appear impossible to make that track safer and it should be done immediately. Meanwhile I believe the event should be stopped...just imagine a second fatality occurred during the games...can you imagine what would happen...

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  • 25. At 11:55am on 14 Feb 2010, Swindon Addick wrote:

    @Jack Fitzgerald: "blaming the organisers for not anticipating the mistake of a competitor for a death occurring in such a dangerous sport is not entirely fair". Sorry, Jack, but it's entirely fair. People make mistakes and it's a basic principle of engineering design to plan for what happens if someone makes a "reasonably foreseeable" mistake. You can't design out risks that are inherent in the sport, and you certainly can't make luge "safe", but you can and should reduce all risks that you possibly can.

    We don't yet know if this was a one-in-a-million freak accident or if it should have been predictable that someone might come off the track, but the track designers need to answer questions as to why he didn't stay within the track when he crashed, in which case he wouldn't have hit the pillar and he would in all probability have survived. And if it's physically impossible to stop people leaving the track, then move the TV gantries or whatever they are to reduce the consequences. It's not rocket science.

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  • 26. At 12:11pm on 14 Feb 2010, fatfox wrote:

    "…blaming the organisers for not anticipating the mistake of a competitor for a death occurring in such a dangerous sport is not entirely fair." (#8)

    Of course they could not be expected to foresee that a given competitor would make a specific mistake at a particular moment. No one expects them to be clairvoyant. But an acceptance that *some* competitors will make *some* mistakes at *some* times is most certainly the responsibility of the organisers – of any sport.

    What are reasonable and unreasonable precautions to take against those circumstances will always be a matter for debate – and no, you can't wrap athletes in bales of cotton wool. But the argument that 'you can't expect us to foresee someone screwing up – it is reasonable to assume every competitor will put in an error-free performance' will never wash. 'Error' and 'human' are words that might as well be glued together.

    I only stayed up long enough to watch the first sound of runs in the luge last night, but even in that, one very experienced competitor did not merely brush but bounced off the top boards – and that on a track where the start had been lowered to knock about 15kph off the top speeds. I don't need to see any more than that to convince me that the fatal accident was not quite the unpredictable, freak event that the organisers were implying.

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  • 27. At 12:14pm on 14 Feb 2010, Peter MacMahon wrote:

    My sympathies go out to the family and friends of Kumaritashvili.

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  • 28. At 12:16pm on 14 Feb 2010, sportsportsport wrote:

    What happened Friday in Whistler was tragic. There is no other way to describe it. My thoughts are with Kumaritashvili's family, friends and all of the competitors in the luge competition.

    Yet all this talk about the speed and technicality of the track, and how it was dangerous is starting to wear thin. Over 200 tests were run at the venue before it was declared safe. Both presidents of the Bobsled and the Luge governing bodies were both satisfied with the quality and the technicality of the course.

    “This is a great track that will challenge all the skills of the modern sliding athletes. It is fast, technical, demanding and interesting,” said Bob Storey, President, FIBT. “The Whistler Sliding Centre is an example for the new tracks of the future as well as a great sporting legacy.”

    “There are lots of technical tracks around the world, but this one is so unique because of the speed — that is what makes it so challenging,” said Walter Plaikner, technical delegate, FIL Track Commission. “The homologation went very well and there is almost nothing to change. This is because of the great work by the construction crew, the ice crew who had the ice in great condition and the entire team of people here in Canada which have done such a great job and made the homologation a success.”

    What more can be done to check safety.

    One of the most obvious reasons for this tragedy is down to the nature of Athletes as a whole. Sports men and women want to be the best. Whether its the fastest man down an icey slide or down a mountain on skis, all competitors are driven to this goal. It is through such attitudes that we see people risk their lives to ski insane lines in the backcountry where avalanches are a big threat. Its why people are pushing to surf a 100ft wave that could crush them to a pulp if they were to get caught by it. Its why this track was designed. Too test the athletes competing at the pinnacle of their sport. The Olympics. And I have to say that I respect that drive.
    Possibly the blame then lies with the IOC for allowing less experienced riders to compete. Maybe the blame lies with VANOC. Maybe it was a simple error of misjudgement by the athlete. All I know is that a young man has lost his life just before what should have been the greatest moment of his life. This was a tragic accident. Not a conspiracy, not a murder. An accident.

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  • 29. At 12:18pm on 14 Feb 2010, richym wrote:

    @17 "How can you make a sport where people fly down snow/ice at 70mph 100% safe? Obviously, you can't."

    Its not how speed you crash at that is important, rather how fast you stop. 100mph at this event would be perfectly safe if the track is designed to gradually slow a competitor down. That is why I find it incredulous that the track was designed with steel columns so close to the track.

    That is why every track should be designed to throw the person back into the track in the event that they are propelled outwards. Its not rocket science, just common sense. Whoever designed this track are 30 years behind the times, sad.

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  • 30. At 12:22pm on 14 Feb 2010, rjaggar wrote:

    The point about 'easier tracks at an Olympics' really would undermine the cachet of Olympic gold. That discussion was had in 1984 in Sarajewo, when the Mens Downhill course was really pretty easy and the gold was arguably determined by a pair of skis, not necessarily the skier wearing them. The Olympics are supposed to be the pinnacle, so the test must be amongst the most demanding.

    It does sound a bit to me though as if there was a desire for the track to be the 'fastest of all time'. There must be a limit to how fast you can go within safety limits but it's not always easy to foresee what that is.

    I do think, though that as a matter of principle, all thoughts about 'what if someone exited the track?' should be thought through completely. It seems clear that if you fly off at 80mph you want to land in soft snow and if you do hit something it must be extremely compressible, not a solid steel girder. That's not saying the tragedy wouldn't happen, it's saying it might be less likely to.

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  • 31. At 12:43pm on 14 Feb 2010, JapRobin wrote:

    Yes, it is a dangerous sport, but 7 years of preparation time is long enough to see the possibility of someone coming off at that curve and crashing into a steel girder. Was it asking too much to have some netting or something there? Whoever the Health and Safety person was should be shot. As John Dudman says, the downhill skiing perimeter nets are there just in case, just like a lifebelt on a plane or boat. And I share Adam's concern about how nothing must be allowed to detract from the greatest show on earth, to the sickening extent that the IOC have sought to exonerate themselves of any responsibilty for the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili. As we saw in the Togan bus attack in the African Cup recently, it really is too big a business for the death of anyone to get in the way, isn't it?

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  • 32. At 12:53pm on 14 Feb 2010, BobTBuilder15 wrote:

    Blaming the late Kumaritashvili solely, is of course the easiest way of deflecting attention and trying to ensure the Games continue.
    This is not a slight on Canada - it would be the same in whichever country was hosting the Winter Olympics.
    Incidents happen. Now we must learn from them.
    I have seen the crash footage and it is very grim. However a mistake by any competitor should not result in his or her death, regardless of how inherently dangerous the sport is. I am a Health & Safety Manager yes, but one who exercises common sense, rather than the all out "Ban it" approach that we are tarred with.
    While my experience lies in Civil and Marine engineering, you have to consider (albeit in this case with the benefit of hindsight) that a competitor coming off a turn will be a huge variable.
    Coming off a turn too late resulted in him hitting the inside wall, designed to keep him on the track, resulting in him being catapulted off his luge and towards the outside. This is where heavy steel posts had been erected in order to provide shade to the ice.
    The need to keep the ice shaded I understand.
    But are you seriously trying to tell me that the designers of the track would never have considered a total novice to the sport going down the track? Regardless of if rules were in place to stop total novices, Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenburger died, Michael Schumacher broke his leg in Formula One - and these guys were/are at the top of their professions - so accidents do happen.
    Many things could have been done - some expensive - others not so. Replacing the steel beams with a collapsable type (such as the prototypes to hold up motorway directional signs) or plastic temporary coverings, safety nets or putting a wall up covering the gaps between pillars - maybe made of a soft metal, which will stop someone but has a degree of give to dissipate the energy. Maybe just made of sheet steel so that the competitor would have bounced back into the track as a quick fix.
    Anything seems preferable to what is there at the moment and I don't consider myself an expert on Luge Run Safety at all - but I can clearly see that the track is not safe as it is.


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  • 33. At 1:34pm on 14 Feb 2010, David Griffiths wrote:

    Did that steel post really have to be right there?

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  • 34. At 1:38pm on 14 Feb 2010, Edinburgher wrote:

    “There are lots of technical tracks around the world, but this one is so unique because of the speed — that is what makes it so challenging,” said Walter Plaikner, technical delegate, FIL Track Commission. “

    So they all knew it was the fastest track.

    Its not rocket science to say that if its so fast and that many competitors who wont be as skilled as the medal contenders, less skilled knowing its a once in a lifetime opportunity to win an olympic medal will risk to the max.

    In that case its up to the organisers/builders to think how they will stop athletes killing themselves.

    Two things come to mind:

    1. Start the luge further down the track - reduce top speed.
    2. Make sure they dont have solid pillars with hardly enough space between each pillar for a sled to pass (never mind a human being) on the outside of bends - when motion dictates that if a person is going to come off they will fly towards those pillars.....

    My sincerest condolences to Nodar Kumaritashvili, his family and friends.

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  • 35. At 1:40pm on 14 Feb 2010, Ed wrote:

    "We don't yet know if this was a one-in-a-million freak accident or if it should have been predictable that someone might come off the track" (#25).

    The problem is that I can predict dozens of fatal "one-in-a-million" freak accidents that could happen to someone every day. Does that mean we need to take precautions against all of them?

    As I have no expertise in this area I'll have to place trust in the conclusions of the coroner's office, police, VANOC, IOC, and Luge Federation as to what happened, why it happened, was it avoidable, and what to do about it to make the sport safer in the future.

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  • 36. At 1:55pm on 14 Feb 2010, Stargazer wrote:

    #28 Sportsportsport:

    Did you read what the competitors said of the track??? Of course the Federation says that the track that they have put forward is fine! Did you notice that both the mens' and the womens' start was lowered to reduce speeds? That was the key element that made a small mistake a danger on a section of the track where the speed is too high to compensate. And having an unprotected steel column at the exit to a curve hardly smacks of taking all reasonable precautions, does it???

    Luge, bobsleigh, downhill, they are all dangerous. That's why we watch them, to marvell at the guts of these competitors and crashes do add to the excitement, but crashes need to be SURVIVABLE, otherwise we are back to the era of the Romans and the arena.

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  • 37. At 3:40pm on 14 Feb 2010, Bronty wrote:

    #8 - "F1 drivers have more protection on them than any other sportsman, their tracks are sanitised to the point that crashes not only happen very rarely but since the Senna tragedy are never going to be fatal except in freak circumstances"

    And then this in the next breath - "F1 drivers face the risk of death at every corner if they make a mistake, even today."

    Sorry for being slightly confused by the contradiction, but are you saying F1 is safe or not?

    There are many interesting comments under this blog, but the recurring one, which I have to agree with, is the fact that there surely has to be a safer alternative on a high speed bend than an unprotected steel girder.

    I make my living investigating fatal road traffic collisions and over the years have lost count of the number of incidents I have attended where cars have failed to negotiate bends, left the road and gone on to hit the only tree for hundreds of yards.

    Fast bends + driver error + tree = big, big trouble. It's not rocket science, and yet the principle appears to have been completely overlooked by the "experts" who designed this track, with the ultimate price being paid.

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  • 38. At 3:45pm on 14 Feb 2010, metal mikko wrote:

    No one foresaw this accident, neither those that designed nor used the track.

    Nodar Kumaritashvili himself had been down the track 26 times, meaning before the accident it been used countless time by numerous athletes. The designers had run many simulations, yet this accident never occurred.

    There must be lessons to be learnt to avoid this happening again, but unfortunately as with all first-time accidents they will be learnt after.

    Had the track been considered too risky the first people to comment would be the athletes themselves. Their collective decision to carry on shows that they believe the risks are acceptable. There seems to be a tendency to ignore the athletes’ perspective, thus implicitly painting them as adrenalin junkies unable to make sensible decisions.

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  • 39. At 5:01pm on 14 Feb 2010, Patrick wrote:

    People have suggested netting or perspex to 'seal in the track' Just wanted to make a couple of observations

    1. If there is an accident how to the rescuers get in quickly

    and more sadly (I hope not the actual reason)

    2. The TV coverage would be very poor with either nets or plastic between the camera and the action.

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  • 40. At 5:09pm on 14 Feb 2010, jonathan wrote:

    Just as importantly in connection with this blog is, where was James Pearce the owner of this blog between 10th February and 14 th February to only report on one incident connected to the games? Yes everything mentioned here is open for debate, but MEANWHILE this city is buzzing with free parties , free entertainment, free private cars and providing 10000 world press 2500 athletes and 3000 trainers and managers with 5 star hospitality. Where are the positives. Thankfully Matthew Pinset is more positive.

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  • 41. At 5:18pm on 14 Feb 2010, Inherent wrote:

    although tragically someone lost their life to start this discussion,but ever since sport started when one had to outdo another their will always be risk;even when Torvill & Dean where aroud their practice routines brought up many horrendous injuries, lucky for them they survived but many other athletes weren't so lucky

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  • 42. At 6:37pm on 14 Feb 2010, Riggadon wrote:

    "But when we start saying that any risk to life - even if it is inherent in the specific and activity accepted by informed adults - is unacceptable, we start to remove one of the factors which drive these athletes on in the first place." Post #13

    It seems to me, that your general attitude is that sport is only sport when you put your life on the line and that this is an acceptable risk in the name of sport. Since when did sport ever become about taking risks with your life? Is'nt that when sport has gone too far? I thought sport was about pushing yourself TO a limit, not over it. When a sport suddenly allows you to go over the limit without consent or warning, should we not then stop and try to re-define what sport is actually about? I think so.

    To die while exploring unchartered area's of the world is an acceptable risk. How else would we have found area's that we previously did not have knowledge of? But to take that same risk of life loss in the name of sport (which at best, is a recreational thing), thats when you know sport has overstepped the boundaries of what was intended.

    Just because these people are trying to push themselves to a limit, does not mean we should'nt go out of our way to make it as safe as possible. Otherwise, you might just as well rename it The Suicide Games.

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  • 43. At 6:43pm on 14 Feb 2010, Mukeye wrote:

    The fact is there had already been disquiet over this course with one luger quoted as having mentioned that someone would be killed before this incident. All this blame on the deceased is meant to deflect liability. The deceased cannot tell their own story or defend themselves and it is left to the so-called experts with their agenda of protecting the IOC and VANOC to conclude that the fault lies with the athlete.

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  • 44. At 6:52pm on 14 Feb 2010, NewForfarian wrote:

    It now seems a little sick that, in the build-up to the Games, the fact that the run was the 'fastest in the world' was claimed as something of which to be proud.

    The 'function' of the Olympics is not to set world records, but to establish the best among the competitors at each Olympiad.

    Whether the top speed attained is 100mph or just 40mph, the best can still be expected to prevail.

    After all, the [Summer] Olympic 100m athletics track isn't converted to be downhill (or, conversely, uphill) to affect the times achieved by athletes.

    Olympic achievements are not absolute, but comparative.

    Tragic accidents can occur in any sport, but the Vancouver Games press release - stating that it was the Georgian's fault for not being good enough at the sport to compensate for an error - brings the Games, and Canada, into disrepute.

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  • 45. At 7:45pm on 14 Feb 2010, Riggadon wrote:

    Having just seen the video of the incident in order to compose a more educated opinion on the matter, I now wished I had'nt bothered. Sickening.

    One thing that does seem clear to me, is that the wall in the area of the crash drops very low, directly adjacent to the posts. As some area's of the track are totally enclosed, then the people running the sport know that in places, the track needs to be enclosed. Why then, on a corner that a lot of media outlets are branding "notorious", was that area not enclosed down that side? I mean the wall really does seem to drop horribly low in that area.

    Having not read many news reports about the incident until today, I did not realise immediately that death was not instant. After viewing the video, my first thought was "at least it was instant, and may have been painless" but to know that the athlete died later in hospital is horrific.

    I dont think I'll be watching anymore of the Games now. I've suddenly lost my appetite for it. Maybe thats the reason why they are pulling the video from websites, left, right and centre (thats the cynical side of my brain kicking in).

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  • 46. At 7:59pm on 14 Feb 2010, 1Wattie wrote:

    Once again we have been shown that MONEY/PROFIT overtakes all other considerations when peoples lives and safety is at stake. The sports world has just recoveded from the deaths of three people as a result of the gun attack at the African Cup of nations where the financial aspect of continuing won the day.
    Here an athlete tragically lost his life in an accident and the authorities blame him instead of saying, what many people knew, that the track was too fast and as a result safety would be compromised.
    Of course we will have the obligatory inquiry into the exact circumstances and "lessons will be learned" but little or nothing will be done to ensure this cannot happen again.
    The unfortunate thing is that there is so much money generated, not just for the local economy, by major sporting events that corners are cut to ensure the maximum income for all concerned.

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  • 47. At 8:14pm on 14 Feb 2010, OWAF wrote:

    Danger in a sport is one thing, but surely there must be something wrong if a mistake costs you your life, sorry but for me "lessons will be learned" is just stupid, safety isnt a lesson its a basic concept that you must have in place even when your crossing the road, let alone in the olympics.

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  • 48. At 9:18pm on 14 Feb 2010, NewForfarian wrote:

    I hope that I am wrong in thinking that the wall (at the point that the Georgian competitor left the run) was no higher than it was solely in order to allow television cameras a better view.

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  • 49. At 10:19pm on 14 Feb 2010, CumquatMay wrote:

    Are you people all ministers for DTI, waffling on about safety? This isn't a steel mill, this is sport. Some sports are lethally dangerous. Luge, cycling, downhill skiing, basically any sport where the body is moving over 50kmh there is the chance of death if the mistake is serious. It's simple physics. People choose to do them anyway, and part of the appeal is that they are not completely sanitised.

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  • 50. At 10:29pm on 14 Feb 2010, Alex Hogg wrote:

    having Luged with Doug Anakin a Bob gold medalist it is obvious the design of this track is crazy.

    Everyone who has ever competed in Bob, Luge or Skeleton knows that at any time with a small mistake you can go over the top. Easy and often

    Having steel structures around is dangerous and the Olympic committee and the Luge associations are guilty of contributing to this death.

    Most of them can hardly walk so how would they know the danger.

    Alex Hogg





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  • 51. At 10:49pm on 14 Feb 2010, AshJaah wrote:

    Tragic Death Of A Young Talented Athlete.

    Lets Hope They Have Realised That This Can Happen, And Correct The Problems On The Track, And For All Future Events Around The World, Make Sure That Safety Is THE NUMBER 1 Priority.

    R.I.P Nodar

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  • 52. At 10:59pm on 14 Feb 2010, max-the-skater wrote:

    his death has been shown on american tv!! how anyone would want to see this i dont know. Surely the last thing his family want is his last moments broadcast all over the world?

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  • 53. At 05:40am on 15 Feb 2010, DCHeretic wrote:

    American broadcaster NBC has said that it will no longer show footage of the accident.

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  • 54. At 10:33am on 15 Feb 2010, Zetterbeard Likes Ponies also Friendship is magic wrote:

    Tragic incident...but now i am going to offer another prospective
    Has anyone by any chance played SEGA's Vancouver 2010?
    I do the Luge a LOT, and the amount of times turn 16 causes a crash is unreal. Doing it at the time i remember joking with a friend: "This 1 is going to be a killer, haha"
    We felt sick after hearing about the REAL tradgedy
    Nodar life was taken away by falty track design and that is obvious to ANYONE who has seen this track.
    sad, sad moment for the georgians
    B.

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  • 55. At 1:40pm on 15 Feb 2010, Nick wrote:

    As a lot have posted. I agree that this course had a major flaw in the design. In these days you can use computer simulation in which there can be millions of runs in which they can see weaknesses. I think this shows complete incompetence with VANOC, IOC and whoever designed and built the course along with all the sporting bodies who accepted this course. I am sure that after the games they will be allowing a lot of the public to try the course even if it is with a professional in a bobsleigh.

    I like many people do like to see the occasional crash at high risk sports but I do not want to see anybody die. And if as some people have said the barrier was lowered for TV cameras then surely in the modern day with the size of cameras they could produce something small enough and at another angle that would give you a good view. If they can show the Moguls from a camera on another mountain then they could have done something here.

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  • 56. At 4:20pm on 15 Feb 2010, KomlaNokwe wrote:

    Another competitor said (I quote from memory): "The competitor's error caused the crash. Lack of safety facilities caused the death."

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  • 57. At 7:26pm on 16 Feb 2010, Canadiangirl wrote:

    As a Canadian I'm very saddened by the luger's death and agree the track didn't have enough safety precautions. I'd hate to think though, that his death was in any way related to our 'own the podium' program. I would be very shocked to learn that Canada would attempt to endanger any of the athletes visiting our country to compete. Most Canadians would not agree with this stance and really want the Olympics to run smoothly and the visitors to enjoy themselves. Of course we want to win medals but not at the expense of other athletes. The stance to win at all costs is not a philsophy I grew up hearing in this country.

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  • 58. At 10:59pm on 16 Feb 2010, SportsFan wrote:

    Keep yapping, London. If there's anything Brits excel at, it's shitting on everyone else.

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  • 59. At 2:31pm on 17 Feb 2010, rowena64 wrote:

    I,as all Canadians are so truly saddened by the Luger's death and our hearts go out to the family. It was an Accident, a terrible terrible accident but it was an accident. For you now Mr.Pearce, personally, I feel that you should be escorted to the airport and put on a plane home. For you to try and link this mans tragic death to Canada's new program, long overdue I might add, Taking The Podium. To use a phrase I have heard when I was in your country, you are somewhat of a sad little man. You come here as a guest and proceed to state your hate and your lies. I guess if I was a bitter man, I might say that your jealousy of this Great Country of ours is starting to show through the cracks. Maybe we could design a medal just for the Brits. Hmmmmmmmmm, wonder what it would look like, maybe Green in the shape of a Whiney, sorry I mean wine glass. Glad I corrected that spelling error. I would not want you to think that I meant you are green with envy and whiney. I am reading a lot of the comments throughout the world and what a shock, other than this tragic accident, most are positive. We are a Great Country full of compassionate and caring people and our reputation throughout the world bears that out. I am curious how your soldiers in Afghanastan fighting alongside our soldiers are taking it. I suspect that both our nations brave men and women there are fighting on together to preserve our freedoms, so that people like you are allowed to publish their smut and people like me can disagree. Shame, Shame, Shame on you Mr. Pearce.

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  • 60. At 3:03pm on 17 Feb 2010, rowena64 wrote:

    I should have figured that you would not post mine, too close to the truth.

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  • 61. At 9:31pm on 17 Feb 2010, Canadiangirl wrote:

    Okay, I had to respond to some of my fellow Canucks on here. Let`s not start calling people names or insulting all Brits. It`s really embarrassing and makes us look very petty and immature. We can disagree with the article and prove how inaccurate the article is without resorting to such behaviour. I have read the BBC online for some time now and found them(usually)very fair and complimentary towards Canada.

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  • 62. At 9:34pm on 18 Feb 2010, Lord Muskoka wrote:

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  • 63. At 9:36pm on 18 Feb 2010, Lord Muskoka wrote:

    Brits, never let the fact get in the way of mob opinion. The lack of knowledge and sensionalistic approach is appalling. Sending golf reporters to cover the winter games? Of course they have not got a clue. All the facilities were approved by the individual federations as well as the IOC. The sliding track was designed by a German. Canada has allowed more luge training than for example we received in Turin in 2006. Non-Canadians were given double the number of practice runs required by the international luge federation. A special training week was scheduled for racers who were not ranked in the top tier, to help them prepare. Not a single racer showed up.It is very sad the young man lost his life but it appears to me if there was fault in this situation it was in allowing an individual who was in over his depth to compete in a very dangerous sport. He had 26 training runs on the track. He had crashed three times prior to the accident on the same corner; he also told his father that he was afraid of the track. Hours after the fatal crash, the track designer, a shocked Gurgel told the German press that Kumaritashvili must have sat up, upsetting the centrifugal forces that would have kept him safe. It's a position the International Luge Federation seemed to reiterate this week when a spokesman attributed the death to human error.

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