The dangers of the luge

The tragic news that 21-year-old luge racer Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed whilst practising for the Olympic luge at Whistler, Vancouver is more than tragedy. Kumaritashvili was injured when he flew off the track and collided with a steel pole, he died as a result of these injuries. He was travelling at 89mph when he crashed.

Inevitably questions have to be asked. Investigations were conducted the same day, concluding that the accident was not caused by deficiencies in the track. As a preventative measure, the walls at the exit of curve 16 were raised and a change in the ice profile was made. To reduce the speed the athletes were reaching the mens’ start was moved to where the ladies were launching and the ladies and mens doubles will now start from the junior start after turn 5.

Was the track too fast? The Whistler luge course includes 16 turns and a 498-foot drop and was considered to be the fastest track that has ever been built. These guys are covering a mile in approximately 50 seconds, attaining speeds in excess of 90mph and enduring a G force more commonly associated with sitting in a rocket.

The president of the ILF, the official governing body of luge, warned that the Whistler Sliding Center track was too fast back in 2008. At the time, he recommended capping maximum track speeds at 85 mph for future tracks. Yet for whatever reason, ILF president Josef Fendt failed to sound the alarm in 2010, even though sliders were clocking well over 90 mph in practice.

What ensued is a tragedy not only for Nodar Kumaritashvili’s family but for the wider Olympic community as a whole and particularly the authorities running the games. But ultimately we suggest that it is in man’s nature to go faster, or to want to go faster, and to put a speed limiter into an event is, in our view, a contradiction of what luge is all about – going flat out. How molly coddled do we want to become or should we keep the extreme element that is at the moment very much part of luge.

We have the deepest sympathy for Nodar Kumaritashvili’s family and send our most sincere condolences. We dedicate this blog to the memory of Nodar Kumaritashvili – he died doing something he loved – RIP.

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