Red herring

Nodar Kumaritashvili crash, 12 February 2010. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Globe & Mail is reporting that a year ahead of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the president of the International Luge Federation (FIL) wrote concerned letters to both VANOC chief John Furlong and the luge track’s designer.

“[FIL President] Mr. Fendt noted that the Whistler sliding track was recording historic sled speeds that were nearly 20 kilometres an hour faster than the track designer had projected.

…“The red flags would have gone up, absolutely,” [Mr. Svein Romstad, Secretary General of the FIL] said in an interview. “Our goal is always to have tracks around 135 kmh, and that was what the designer projected. Instead, we suddenly got to 154 kmh. That was never our intention.”

— Mickleburgh, Rod and Jeff Blair. “VANOC feared injury ‘or worse’ year before luger’s fatal crash.” Globe & Mail, 6 February 2011.

With respect to the Globe, that is all fascinating but irrelevant. Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died because he struck a steel pole at trackside while travelling at 143.6 kmh. Hitting the same pole at a slightly slower 123.6 kmh would have been equally as fatal.  The problem is not track speed, but placing steel structural elements immediately adjacent to the track.  The pole was there to support a sun visor, meant to preserve the track’s surface; there’s no reason it couldn’t have been designed and equipped with greater shielding/padding or further separation from the track.  Which, by the way, is exactly what organisers did after the accident.

WHISTLER, BC - FEBRUARY 13, 2010: New boarding is installed along turn 16 of the luge course, where Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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