Luger dies in practice?

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by clearconscience, Feb 12, 2010.

  1. clearconscience

    Vancouver, WA
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    VANCOUVER – With the crash that killed Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a Friday morning training run, just hours before the Olympic torch was to be lit here, the Vancouver Games need to take immediate steps to assure the safety of its athletes.

    It can start by canceling the luge competition altogether unless the track can be reconstructed to prevent wicked speeds from putting athletes at risk.

    Kumaritashvili, 21, lost control of his sled during a practice session at the Whistler Sliding Centre. He violently caromed off of two of the track’s walls before being tossed in the air, where he spun until hitting a metal support pole. He was rushed to a local hospital, but it was too late.

    This was no isolated incident, not just a bit of human error in an inherently dangerous sport.

    It was a tragedy some saw coming on the super-fast track that had produced a dozen training wrecks already and had athletes wondering whether they were being put into harm’s way in a sport already built on attaining near impossible speeds.

    “I think they are pushing it a little too much,” Australia’s Hannah Campbell-Pegg told the Associated Press on Thursday 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.”

    Campbell-Pegg’s words should haunt these Games.

    News of the death Friday reached the downtown torch relay and cast a pall on the run-up to the Opening Ceremony. It needs to force the International Olympic Committee and the local organizing committee to immediately rededicate these Games to safety.

    IOC president Jacques Rogge was non-committal on what would happen next with the luge, although the IOC promised a later press conference. “It’s a time of sorrow,” Rogge said. “It’s not a time to look for reasons.”

    Kumaritashvili was clocked at 89.44 mph just before losing control as he exited what is called the Thunderbird turn. Some lugers have said speeds near 90 mph make maintaining control of the sled almost impossible.

    The track at Whistler is arguably the world’s fastest, and the danger is everywhere. The week already had seen one incident where Italian gold medalist Armin Zoggeler lost control and had to be taken off the track with medical attention (he returned) and another that left a Romanian woman unconscious.

    The track has been closed since Kumaritashvili’s death and shouldn’t be opened unless it can be redesigned to slow the athletes.

    The luge is always a dangerous event, what with one or two people lying on a small, slick sled that whips through an icy, curvy course. There is no reason to set up a track that produces speeds that challenge an athlete just to maintain grip on the sled.

    A slower track does not weaken the competition. Competitors still would have to maximize the course as best they could. It would be a safer yet still level playing field, minus the eye-popping speeds reached only for the excitement of fans or for false standards such as clocks and “world records.”

    At some point with these sports, enough has to be enough. No one set out to create a track that would cause athletes to die, but it is clear through training that this course has pushed the competitors to the brink – or, in this case, beyond.

    Now the organizers need to protect the competitors from themselves. The luge is not for the faint of heart, and the athletes who thrive in it naturally push themselves to faster and faster times. But these are just games, nothing worth dying for.

    The luge competition, set to begin Saturday, should be postponed for the time being and canceled if the track can’t be fixed. A team of experts – officials, coaches and athletes – must determine whether the course is safe or can be adjusted to become safe.

    If this many crashes and this much fear was being generated during training sessions, it will only get worse when the athletes go all-out in pursuit of the gold.

    One ugly, horrific tragedy on the luge course is one too many. This track, this sport, needs to be shut down until sanity reigns.

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