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Safety measures installed on luge track

Hours after investigators concluded that human error, not a problem with the track, caused the fatal accident that on Friday sent Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili flying off of his sled headfirst into a trackside metal pole, Olympic and luge officials announced the implementation of several safety measures.

With the luge competition set to begin Saturday night, officials decided to move the men's start farther down the track to the women's start. They were considering adjustments to the women's and doubles' starts as well, said Svein Romstad, International Luge Federation secretary general.

They further announced they had raised the wall surrounding the turn Kumaritashvili, 21, could not navigate, and pledged to treat the ice in a way that would help sleds stay on course.

Asked during the Saturday morning news conference about whether they would put padding on the metal poles lining the course, Tim Gayda, the Vancouver Games' director of sport, said at those speeds. "padding around objects isn't going to help." Gayda said the goal goal was to ensure that athletes remained on the track.

In typical luge accidents, athletes flip over. Rarely are they ejected from the track.

In a joint statement late Friday night, the Vancouver Games committee and the International Luge Federation said the Coroners Service of British Columbia and the RCMP concluded its on-scene investigation and concluded "there was no indication that the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track."

Kumaritashvili came improperly out of the turn prior to the one in which he lost control--turn 16, the statement and officials said.

"Though the athlete worked to correct the problem, he eventually lost control of the sled resulting in the tragic accident," the statement said.

Added Romstad: "Although he attempted to correct the situation, he shot up into the roof of curve 16. The angle at which he did so resulted in him experiencing a G-force that was so strong it literally collapsed his body... once this happened, he was literally at the mercy of the path of the sled."

Based on that conclusion, the race director and international federation decided to reopen the track after raising the wall at the exit of curve 16 and changing the ice profile.

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

By Amy Shipley  |  February 13, 2010; 12:33 PM ET
Categories:  Luge  
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Yeah, it was the guys own fault . . .

Olympic Committee: Let the disclaimers, the liability-waivers, the refusal to accept responsibility begin!!!!

Posted by: momof20yo | February 13, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I have three thoughts on this:

1) Luge is a dangerous sport. It was clear just watching it in previous years that it's dangerous. I don't think you can make it not dangerous (that's the entire appeal isn't it?)

2) The show must go on.

3) The luge events just became the most interesting sport at this year's olympics

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | February 13, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Talk about CYA. This young Olympiad deserves better.
Human error did not omit to put a higher protective wall, creating a barrier from the steel beams. Gayda's statement that at high speeds padding wouldn't help is patently false. It could have made the difference between death and serious injury.
Course what do you expect from an Olympic Committee that refuses to allow women to enter the downhill jump because "it's not healthy for them".

Posted by: alyd69 | February 13, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Ombudsman. It's awful, it's sad, it's tragic. However, it is a sport like sky diving, incredibly risky and it is not a sport that has never encountered death before. However aspiring, however skilled, it's a dangerous sport and you take your life into your own hands flying at 90 mph. If someone was driving at 90mph, it's considered reckless, you see what I mean? It's dangerous.

Posted by: domino21710 | February 13, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Padding wouldn't have helped? What b********. How about those crazy stuntmen that jump from a helicopter and land on an air mattress?

I think Tim Gayda is just covering up a design problem with the track.

Posted by: oracle2world | February 13, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

This reminds me of how the police always clear themselves of any wrong doing after a shooting. Of course we would expect those that built the track to clear themselves too.

Posted by: metroman76 | February 13, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Live FAST----

DIE YOUNG!!!!!!!

BOO HOO!!!!!

Posted by: dumniggar | February 13, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Safety 101 -engineer it so that human error cannot cause a tragic accident.

Posted by: cabraman | February 13, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

What a white-hot hunk of poo! NBC just essentially said the same thing, that it was human error...

And then without any irony at all noted that there weren't any more accidents because the new track modifications had lowered speeds into the 80s (mph), speeds that the other, supposedly 'good' athletes were used to in World Class events.

If this guy is an American, then consider the probing, hard-hitting coverage that NBC would be spinning. But he was just a Georgian. So lets just push this aside. Nothing to see here...move along...

Posted by: jaho | February 13, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Human error led to the accident. Mistakes in track design made that accident fatal.

At least the officials are finally moving to make the track safer. Hopefully it will be enough to prevent any more tragic accidents from occuring during the Olympics.

Posted by: ElJocko | February 13, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Tragic. The IOC better hope that nobody else gets injured or killed at turn 16, because it would make them look really foolish and unsafe. Additionally, I hope that Nodar gets a posthumous gold medal.

Posted by: ozpunk | February 13, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

momof20yo wrote:

"Yeah, it was the guys own fault . . ."

Concur, blame the dead guy. Seeing the video on the news, stunned to see the beams/posts right on the track like that. Never recall seeing a course with big immovable objects like that right on the course. While most luge accidents involve sliding down the track, I've watched enough of the sport over the years to have seen more than a couple accidents in which the luger goes airborne. With huge immovable objects right on the track like that .... well just seemed the tragedy wouldn't have happened without those objects being right on the course.

Posted by: notamullethead | February 13, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

human error was the cause...what a load of BS, blame the dead kid.....not surprising at all. human error is the difference between a gold medal and not placing. The problem with this is that engineers are contracted to build these structures and have no idea of the sport at all

Posted by: steve95 | February 13, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Some lawyer must have composed the investigators' response (which seems remarkably quick, don't you think?). How can the course not be responsible for this death and at the same time (1) the wall on the turn gets built up to prevent somebody else from being ejected and (2) they decide to treat the ice to slow down the sleds and (3) they decide to start the men farther down the course. Something tells me the death of this poor fellow was caused very definitely by human error but not the human that the investigators want to blame.

Posted by: JoeTink | February 13, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

I also don't believe padding those poles would help prevent another death. That being said, I'm curious about why those poles are there in the first place. There are no fixed objects on the outside of the turns on any road racing circuit to prevent this exact type of accident. It's just deadly by design.

Posted by: squier13 | February 13, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Of course it wasn't the luger's fault ... It was someone's else's. Never mind his relative inexperience for competition at this level, never mind the possibility of an error on his part...Someone else's fault.


Posted by: uche05 | February 13, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

uche05 - "American malarkey"?? How is this America's fault?! The article clearly state "the Vancouver Games committee and the International Luge Federation said the Coroners Service of British Columbia and the RCMP concluded its on-scene investigation".

Back off jerk.

Posted by: wrigleywrat | February 13, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

In retrospect it makes me wonder if it was really that difficult to protect the competitors by putting a transparent flex-glass on the sides. That way the unfortunate competitor could go only one way - down, while the view is still there.

My condolence to this guy's family, countrymen, and everybody else like myself who was truly horrified with this tragic death.

Posted by: radiotesla | February 13, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

A probe takes less than a day to complete? Last time I checked, coroners' reports typically took a couple weeks to complete. And who ran the probe? The same Olympic Committee and Luge Federation that is currently trying to stage its marquee event. If anybody ever had a deep self-interest in finding no problems with the track and keeping events on schedule, it's these same Olympic and luge officials.

What's odd is that at the same time that these officials deny any problem with the track, they are making modifications to it, which smacks of hypocrisy. That final straightaway appears designed to accommodate crowds of people watching the track, and it's obvious that the wall coming off of that last turn is too short for the speeds involved.

The simple reality is that each successive Olympic venue tries to build a sled track that is faster than the last one. At some point, someone will build a track that is simply too fast, and this may be that track. What is especially sad is that such speed is not even necessary. There are no world records in the luge. Each track is its own event, and top speeds could be 60 or 70 mph instead of 90, and the race would be just as competitive.

Every competition, there are numerous sledders who crash on turns after entering them slightly too high or too low, so simply blaming this on racer error is a cop out. The fault, at least in part, rests with the track and with those who designed it. There is no good reason to create faster alpine tracks and courses every year or every four years except for hubris. These sports are not like swimming or running where speeds are governed by one's own power. Here, people use gravity, which makes the sports much more dangerous, especially when courses get steadily steeper and faster. This time the quest for speed cost a young man his life.

Posted by: blert | February 13, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: uche05


Wow, you manage to insult at least two different nationalities here, if not more. Canadians hate being confused as Americans, and suggesting that the Vancouver Olympics are an American event is about as insulting as it gets.

Blaming a tragedy at a Canadian venue overseen by Canadian and international officials on Americans...well, that's just typical, I guess. A bird can take a crap on your car in Melbourne or London or Beijing or wherever, and it's the fault of the Americans, right?

Posted by: blert | February 13, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Can you believe this freaking commercial fest by NBC... there's more commercials than events....worst I've ever seen.

Posted by: seakeys | February 13, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Well, the investigators can claim it was "pilot error," however, I noticed in the video that there appeared to be a strange entrance into that turn with the wall on his right having what appeared to be a sharp corner that looked like it jutted out into the turn a bit.
Makes me wonder how the entrance to that turn was designed, especially when so many are having a problem with the course.
Then too, that particular turn is the only one that doubles back to the finish.
The lugers are at their maximum speed when they encounter that close to 180-degree turn and the attempt to slow them down just a bit follows that turn.
I think they can claim "pilot error" all they want; there are some issues in design there, whether they want to admit it or not.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | February 13, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I agree with most of the people who commented that they believed something is wrong with the track. NBC Olympic Games reporters have stated the Lugers are having a lot of accidents on this track.

Padding the Steel Girders wouldn't have helped. Making a wall of Plexiglas on the outside of the fastest turns would prevent Luggers from striking the Steel Girders, keep them in the track and allow for fan visibility.

At a Nascar Racing Track most outside turns not only have a high wall but fencing.

A great engineer told me that "Anything designed by Human Beings is subject to error not perfection"

Look at Toyota Gas Pedals. The Space Shuttle Challenger.

It's sad that the investigators reported that it was human error that caused the fatal crash. Things can be made safer as human error is sited in many fatal automobile accidents. That's why we have seat-belts and airbags to minimize injury and death. Nothing can be made completely safe. I do commend the officials moving the starting point further down the track to lower a Luger's terminal velocity.

While acknowledging Human Athletic Error is valid, I feel it's a cop out for officials to blame the athlete and exonerate the track, while not adding Plexiglas safety structures as I suggested here. Athletes whether Sledding or Luging can have a crash/accident. The question is what can officials do to make the tracks safer for when crash/accidents happen.

Posted by: 625shapiro | February 13, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

This stuff isn't "safe". Motorcycles, skiing, you name it. If you're doing 90MPH and hit unyielding metal, you're gonna buy yourself a farm. The kid knew it, he bought it, that's that. No different from my 160HP, 200MPH motorcycle. If I wad the bike and fall, I'm gonna buy it. Who's gonna whine, other than safety nuts? Guys that work on aircraft carriers, carry a rifle overseas, fire fighters, cops, all sorts of extremer's do dangerous stuff and buy the farm every day.

Only weenies that do nothing "dangerous" will protest the concept. It's the wussification of America that brings out all this hand-wringing. Thankfully, most of us don't listen.

Posted by: JamesChristian | February 13, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Any sport that involves going faster is dangerous. Why can't they put a half pipe clear plastic cover at the dangerous area to keep the sledders within the confines of the track? Clear plastic would not interfere with watching.

Posted by: nosuchluck | February 13, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Oh, okay. So the track was designed such that human error results in a fatality.

Well, no issue there. Thanks for clearing that up, IOC. It's about as reputable as any other conclusion you've reached in the last 3 decades.

Posted by: dsk36 | February 13, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I concur with ElJocko. Human error may have caused the accident; engineering error made it fatal. And padding the columns would NOT have made it any safer. No amount of padding can save a human projectile moving at 90 MPH when he/she hits an immovable object head-on. The architect who designed Washington's Knickerbocker Theater was so distraught about the design deficiencies of the theater's roof -- which collapsed under the weight of 2 feet of snow, killing 98 people -- that he committed suicide. I'm wondering how the designers of the luge run are feeling about now.

Posted by: bigfish2 | February 13, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Dsk, and nosuch, please. You simply are NOT going to make this stuff "safer". Only in the land of Saint Happinin'. Face it, that's why peeps watch Isle of Mann, NASCAR, F-1 and Indy. It's the prospect of watching peeps crash themselves to a fiery death, or in this guy's case, a clanging death when he rang the stanchion, that gets you peeps to watch this stuff all day. Now stop being weenies and enjoy the Olympics.

Posted by: JamesChristian | February 13, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

"Can you believe this freaking commercial fest by NBC ... there's more commercials than events ... worst I've ever seen."
Posted by: seakeys | February 13, 2010 3:59 PM
And yet, seakeys, NBC stated last month, as they coped with the fallout from the Leno/O'Brien mess, that they expected to lose money in their coverage of the Olympics.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | February 13, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

I hope they sue the heck out of the IOC and Vancouver OC. No shame.

Posted by: kennedys | February 13, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

True, the track didn't kill him. Smashing to the pillar at 90mph hour did him in. This does sound like a white wash by the Olympic and luge officials

Posted by: FredKnowsBest | February 13, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

this is the equivalent of saying that jumping off the empire state building doesn't kill you - it's the sudden stop at the bottom

Posted by: TurdFergusonJeopardy | February 13, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

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