Saturday, February 13, 2010

2010 Winter Olympics are Marked by Tragedy, But is Anyone to Blame?

North Vancouver
North Vancouver
The 2010 Winter Olympic opening ceremonies were tinged with sadness with the death of Georgia luge slider, Nodar Kumaritashvili.

After review, officials said there was no evidence that deficiencies in the track caused the death of the 21 year-old luger. According to news reports, they are raising the wall where Kumaritashvili went off and making “unspecified changes to the ice.” Also the men will now be starting down at the women’s starting point. All this to slow down the travel speed.

Chatter in the news and over the internet is running the gambit…some calling the track too dangerous and reporting the complaint by Australian luger Hannah Campbell-Pegg that she felt like a "crash test dummy" the night before the fatal accident. Others, such as champion and gold medal winner, skier Peekaboo Street spoke on Universal Sports channel about the addiction of speed and always pushing the envelope. Street has come back from several bad crashes, although none perhaps more disastrous than the one in 1998 where she broke her left femur and tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and lateral meniscus in her right knee. She crashed into the safety netting.

For whatever reason, our local channel chose to show video of the crash. You can certainly find it on the web--I won’t post it here out of respect. Suffice to say, all the padding in the world around those beams would not have saved Kumaritashvili. He hit the beam going almost 90 mph (144.84 kph). People in the safety of a car and seatbelts are unlikely to survive a crash at those speeds.

Some are complaining this is the result of the Canadians getting many more practice runs. Had this happened during the games, perhaps this could be a legitimate argument, but the Georgian slider was on a practice run. More arguably, the age and experience of the slider may be the deciding factor. Looking at the roster, some scheduled are as young as 18; most are in their mid to late 20s to early 30s. Even experienced lugers are vulnerable on this track--earlier this week Olympic champion luger, Italy's Armin Zöggeler, also lost control when his sled came out from under him.

Clearly, this is not a track for those "just here for the Olympic experience." We may yet see greater restrictions placed on future Olympic qualifications for such sports, such as requiring all participants to obtain set levels of world competition. This is not the place to send the Jamaican bobsled team, no matter how much we love an underdog. (Note: Jamaica did not send a bobsled team this time.)

Unfortunately, I think this death will result in increased viewership of the luge competition. I’m not opposed to increased viewership of any sport, but it would be tragic if people tune in because of morbid fascination. We also need to realize that life contains risk. This was a tragic accident and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and teammates. We hug our kids and wish we could pad the corners of the world we send them into, but we can't.

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