Safety negligence causes luge accident death in Olympics

While the death of Georgian Olympic luger Nodar Kumaritashvilli, 21, has been dubbed an accident, it will be remembered by some as a blatant disregard for athlete safety at the Olympic winter games. The safety of the athletes was compromised by the selfishness and competitiveness of the Canadian sports officials.On Feb. 12, Kumaritashvilli lost control of his sled at well over 90 miles an hour while training for his Olympic runs just days later.

This was only Kumaritashvilli’s fifth run down the hill. Meanwhile, Canadian sports officials had given Canadian lugers almost unlimited time to practice on one of fastest luge tracks in the world, in an obvious attempt to give the home-country an upper-hand.

Safety was overlooked in other various Olympic events as well. Many other athletes and Olympic federations from several non-Canadian countries reported to have little to no time to train on ski courses, speed skating ovals, and the sliding center. Canadian athletes, on the other hand, were given much more time to access the courses and tracks before the beginning of the games.

The competitive edge that the Canadian sports officials were trying to create is partly a product of Canada’s “Own the Podium” campaign. The program pumped $110 million into the Canadian Olympic team’s push for medals.

The goal of the campaign was to produce 35 medals. Sliding sports such as luge, bobsledding, and skeleton were expected to be gold, silver, and bronze mines for Team Canada. This was no time for the officials to lose focus on the safety of the athletes.

Leading up to the games, the track’s safety was the big topic among sliding athletes.

President of the International Luge Federation Josef Fendt was one of many who were concerned with the track’s safety after international training in November 2008. Fendt said in a statement to The New York Times that the speed and danger of the course worried him.

Steve Holcomb, a member of the top United States bobsled team, called curve 13 of the sliding track a “50-50,” because there was only a 50 percent chance of riding through it successfully.

Last February at the World Cup test trials, lugers reached speeds of 95.652 mph on the same track, six mph faster than any other course in the world.

Unfortunately, Canadian officials ignored these events in account for safety of the athletes until after Kumaritashvilli’s death.

To ease the minds of athletes and to avoid other tragedies, simple changes to the sliding course were constructed overnight that would have easily prevented this disaster.

Immediately after Kumaritashvilli’s death, Olympic officials moved the men’s starting point about two football field lengths lower to prevent them from reaching such speeds seen before the games started.

The uncovered steel beams that Kumaritashvilli slammed into in his fatal crash were simply padded to avoid the same sort of casualty from occurring again. Walls were also erected overnight to prevent sledders from going over the short walls.

These safety modifications were completed less than 24 hours after Kumaritashvilli’s death. Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for any of this to be done and for athlete safety to be a priority at the games.

Everyone involved deserved more from Canadian Olympic officials.

The fans deserved better, Nodar Kumaritashvilli deserved better, the other hard-working athletes who are trying to live out their dreams deserved better, and, in this case, the world deserved better.