Saturday, 13 February 2010

Citius, Altius, Fortius, de Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum

RIP Nodar Kumaritashvili 1988-2010

Competitors have said that the Bobsleigh track at Whistler for the Olympics is incredibly fast. In fact it has long had a reputation as the fastest track in the world.

However, there have been a number of crashes in practise and as the Games prepare to officially open we are reminded of just how dangerous these sports can be. Georgian luge competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled on his sixth and final practise run, crashed on the final turn, came off his sled at at 90mph (144.3km/h) and hit a unpadded pole near the finish. He was pronounced dead later at hospital.

Josef Fendt, the president of the World Luge Federation said:

"The track is too fast. We have planned it for a maximum speed of 137 kph but it is almost 20kph faster. We think this is planning mistake.''

One of the things that the Canadians have been criticised for prior to these games is lack of access to the venues of visiting teams. While this policy is within the letter of the rules it has drawn criticism from many of the other nations. In Sunday's Observer Sport Monthly the following startling statistic was mentioned which in light of today's events takes on new significance. Ahead of the 2002 Salt Lake Games the US offered 90 practice runs to the Canadian luge team, this year the reciprocal deal is just 18.

British silver medalist in Turin 2006 in the skeleton Shelley Rudman said:

"The reality is, it's a different track, I haven't had that many runs there. The Canadians have had a phenomenal amount of runs there and they are very strong at the moment."

According to a team official the British team have had just 10% of the practise time on the track of the host team. Australian luger Hannah Campbell-Pegg said after losing control on Thursday:

"I think they are pushing it a little too much. 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."

The rest of the Georgian team have said that they will compete Nikolos Rurua, the country's Minister for Culture and Sport said the national team had "decided to be loyal to the spirit of the Olympic Games" adding that the athletes will "dedicate their performances to their fallen comrade".

Kumaritashvili joins the ranks of Australian skier Ross Milne and British luger Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypeski who both died in training crashed in Innsbruk in 1964, and Swiss short-track speed skier Nicolas Bochatay who was killed in practice for the then demonstration event in Albertville 1992.

As my title says combining the Olympic motto "Swifter, higher, stronger" added on to a Horace quote "of the dead say nothing but good". For poor Nador and his family my thoughts and prayers, for the Olympic movement look at the future and the safety of the athletes, look at the rules to access to venues for visiting athletes and see if that rule can be changed that would be a lasting tribute to this young man whose life was tragically cut short in his prime.

Update 01:51: The luge event was planned to go ahead on Saturday and the latest news is that this is still the intention.

Update 2: According to BBC correspondent Ollie Williams' tweet.

Olympic luge track reopened. Training resumes later on Saturday but with higher wall where Georgian luger died and "change in ice profile"
Update 3: The men's event is scheduled to go ahead later on Saturday as planned. The men will use the women's start 200m further down the track which will reduce speed. The walls at the exit of turn 16, where Kumaritashvili crashed have also been raised as a precaution.

The men were offered two addition training runs this morning. 36 of the remaining competitors took to the track, of the 3 who didn't one was Levan Gureshidze, the Georgian team mate of Kumaritashvili. The three may still take part in the event which starts are 0100 GMT.

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