The death of Nodar Kumaritashvili (and his love to luge)

Feb 20th, 2010 Update: Funeral of Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili

Feb 14th 9:10pm Update: Heart breaking report from CBC, “Georgian luger’s father won’t watch fatal crash

Feb 14th 10:00am Update: Looks like Martin Rogers’ report may have been mistaken that Nodar’s dad was NOT with him in Vancouver. News from CTV “Our hearts are broken“.

Feb 13th 10:10am Update: The starting point of the competition is now lowered to the women starting point (30m about ~10 storey lower), the protective wall raised, and the course profile changed.

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(See above note for revision update) First of all, Martin Rogers wrote in “Nodar Kumaritashvili loved to luge“,

Kumaritashvili grew up immersed in winter athletics, with his father Felix a world-class bobsled athlete and coach.

Felix previously coached the French national team and had hoped his son would follow him into bobsled, but the local facilities and the cost of the sport made luge a more sensible option.

[…] A week ago, Felix and Nodar left Bakuriani together, driving four hours to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi before the 22-hour trip to Canada.

On Friday, Felix suffered a fate no father should ever have to, witnessing his son die on a training run as Nodar slid down the track at nearly 90 mph before crashing into a metal post, ensuring the world would know his name after the most tragic of circumstances.

From CNN “Changes coming to Olympic luge track after fatal crash“,

The Vancouver Olympic Committee and the luge federation, known by its French initials FIL, outlined their findings in a joint statement.

“It appears after a routine run, the athlete came late out of curve 15 and did not compensate properly to make correct entrance into curve 16,” they said. “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 technical officials of the FIL were able to retrace the path of the athlete and concluded there was no indication that the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track.”

The track will reopen after officials raise the walls at the exit of curve 16 and change the “ice profile,” they said.

“This was done as a preventative measure, in order to avoid that such an extremely exceptional accident could occur again,” the statement said.

[…] Sports Illustrated’s David Epstein, who is covering the Olympics for the magazine, told CNN’s “Situation Room” that the Whistler course is the fastest in the world “and not by a little.”

He noted that while most luge courses “flatten out” around the 11th turn, the Whistler track “just keeps on dropping so there’s really kind of no break from gathering speed toward the end.”

Epstein said some athletes had been complaining about the speed of the course and speculating that this Winter Games could be the first time the sport sees a competitor hit 100 mph.

Here is a NYT Blog takes the findings “Officials Say Athlete, Not Track, Caused Crash“,

The crash that resulted in the death of the luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili was caused by his errors on the course and not a deficiency in the Whistler Sliding Centre course, the Olympic organizing committee and the sport’s international governing body said in a joint statement issued late Friday.

[In the comments left by readers:]
To blame the competitor is obnoxious. The punishment for lack of experience or error should NOT be death.” 46 Readers agreed at press time.

And the most unfortunate comment/report comes from UK Telegraph Ian Chadband, Chief Sports Correspondent in Vancouver, “Winter Olympics 2010: Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death overshadows opening ceremony

For the big question being asked here today as the first medals were about to be contested was whether it was Canada’s own over-zealous attitude, determined to “Own the Podium” by limiting their opposition’s practice time at the Whistler ice track which might have contributed to a relative World Cup novice like Kumaritashvili ending up in such an horrific crash.

Georgian officials played down suggestions that inexperience played a part in the crash which saw him fly off the track at the notorious 16th and final curve of the lightning track and straight into a metal column at nearly 90mph. Inexperience, anyway, could not explain how Armin Zoeggeler, the brilliant reigning champion, was one of four other sliders who suffered accidents too.

Telegraph Sport had highlighted earlier this week the growing dangers posed in the push for greater speed and more dangerous manoeuvres in the Games’ bid to woo the youth market.

I think and hope VANOC has put in the needed modifications to make the course safer to compete in. I am not an expert in the sport to comment on the technical causes of the crash but it seemed to me that blaming the dead can be viewed as a seriously distasteful act and unless the officials can be 500% sure, it should not have been said.

Having said the above, it is totally unfair Mr. Chadband to insinuate

“whether it was Canada’s own over-zealous attitude, determined to “Own the Podium” by limiting their opposition’s practice time at the Whistler ice track”

I believe the decisions to limit practice times in many different competitions were technical decisions completely due to the unseasonably warm weather. When it rained like it did in the various courses and with snow being flown and trucked in, I am surprised Mr. Chadband would accuse Canada of ill motives in limiting practice time.

Again, my heart goes to Nodar Kumaritashvili and his family and loved ones. The pain is even sharper for me as I now know Nodar’s father was there to see his son crashed and died. So terribly sad.

8 Responses to The death of Nodar Kumaritashvili (and his love to luge)

  1. Wordsmith says:

    Still a bit bothered as to why those posts (pillars) weren’t wrapped in the first place.

    I love winter sports and the luge is one of my favorite and this young man died doing what he probably loved with every fiber of his being. You have to feel for his father, and at the same time knowing his father was there rather than thousands upon thousands of miles away is somewhat comforting. Somewhat.

  2. kempton says:

    Absolutely right that why those posts/pillars (I presume they are their for structural support) are not wrapped in something to reduce any potential impact? Apparent this course has been in used since 2007. May be we are seeing things with the power of hindsight. I don’t know.

    It is the hardest for a parent to see a child died before him/her but you are right that at least they could shared the last few moments together.

  3. Sachin says:

    I was extremely shocked when I came across this news post and in my search for more information about the incident I came across a video displaying the 10 or so seconds up to the 16th turn and how quickly it was all over. If I had been standing I would have fallen on my back at the sight.

    After discussing the matter with my father we came to the conclusion that it is absolutely disgusting that the building and designing team of this track overlooked the fact that those big steel pillars on the side of the track were not covered up, I mean for god’s sake. This turn is after all one of the fastest turns on the entire track.

    I know I may sound like I am repeating what other people have already said, I personally have no experience or knowledge into track design. But I feel that this point must be stressed and that it must be heard by as many people as possible.

  4. kempton says:

    Sachin,

    Good to see VANOC has added some safety features to protect the competing athletes (as my update has indicated). Safety comes first.

  5. NC says:

    His coach was NOT his father. He was his father’s cousin. His father and mother were in Georgia at the time of an accident. I can’t believe how many websites get this information wrong.
    My heart goes out to all his family and friends. This is a very sad time.

  6. kempton says:

    Thanks NC. I stand corrected. I’ve updated the post.

    Here is a news from today
    ‘Our hearts are broken’
    Agence France-Presse
    Posted Sunday, February 14, 2010 10:10 AM ET
    http://www.ctvolympics.ca/luge/news/newsid=41132.html

  7. Wordsmith says:

    Just coming back to say I was wrong about Nodar’s father being in Vancouver with him. Damnit. That’s even more heartbreaking.

    Here’s something from a local Olympian (former) that was on one of our local TV stations about the luge track at Whistler.

    There’s also this from the <a href="http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=1&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.abendblatt.de%2Fsport%2Folympia%2Farticle1382480%2FNach-dem-Olympia-Tod-eines-Rodlers-traegt-Georgien-Trauer.html&sl=auto&tl=en"Hamburg Evening Gazette with a picture of Nodar’s father. I just cannot imagine their grief.

    I also read that – heard it first – about the blame for the accident was lain on Nodar. What bullshit.

  8. kempton says:

    Thanks Wordsmith for the update.

    Yes, high speed sport is dangerous but anyone who blamed the dead needs to have their head examined. It makes me sick.

    The protective wall as they have created now would have reduced the severity of any accident. Accidents can hurt the athletes but Nodar’s accident did not necessary need to result in his death.

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