Whistler track reopens day after luger Nodar Kumaritashvili death

Lugers will race for gold at the Winter Olympics Saturday, after an investigation that resulted in two additional safety measures for the track. But debate is likely to continue over the Whistler track.

Michael Sohn/AP
Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia's sled just after his fatal crash training for the luge, yesterday. Olympic officials have made changes to the track and say it will be ready for the start of competition Saturday.

Lugers will race for a gold medal at the Winter Olympics Saturday, one day after colleague Nodar Kumaritashvili died from injuries sustained in a crash during a training run.

Both authorities for the Province of British Columbia and the International Luge Federation (FIL) have finished their investigations of the site.

The Coroner’s Service of British Columbia gave the FIL permission to reopen the track, and FIL has decided to resume competition once two additional safety measures are taken.

First, the walls at the end of curve 16 – where Kumaritashvili flew out of the track and hit an unpadded steel post – will be raised. Second, the ice profile will be changed to make the curve less severe. Both of these changes can be finished before the competition Saturday.

The FIL investigation concluded that the crash was “extremely exceptional” and was a result of driving mistakes made by Kumaritashvili in curve 15.

“After a routine run, the athlete came late out of curve 15 and did not compensate properly to make correct entrance into curve 16,” a FIL statement reads. “This resulted in a late entrance into curve 16 and although the athlete worked to correct the problem he eventually lost control of the sled resulting in the tragic accident.”

The statement continues: “There was no indication that the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track.”

The FIL statement came as more information about the crash and Kumaritashvili became available.

Crash occurred after track's most difficult portion

Georgia’s minister for culture and sport insisted that Kumaritashvili was not a novice luger – as some lugers who come to the Olympics are, relatively speaking. The Olympic Games expand the field of qualifiers to give lugers from various parts of the world a chance to participate.

The Georgian minister, Nikolos Rurua, noted that Kumaritashvili finished 11th in a previous practice run and came from a region of the country with a strong winter sports tradition.

In fact, Kumaritashvili's hometown of Borjomi put in a failed bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Also, the crash took place after what is considered the most difficult portion of the track – turns 11, 12, and 13 – alleviating some concern about whether that portion of the track is too dangerous even for the best lugers.

The FIL’s decision to continue with the luge competition as scheduled comes after the Georgian Olympics delegation decided to remain and compete at the Games. They walked in the procession of nations at Friday night’s opening ceremonies, wearing black armbands and tying a black sash to the Georgian flag.

The opening ceremonies included a minute of silence for Kumaritashvili and the lowering of both the Olympic and Canadian flags to half staff.

The luge competition is expected to continue with training runs Saturday morning, followed by the first and second of four competition runs beginning at 5 p.m. Pacific time.


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