Luge death ruled accidental, but safety eyed
By Allan Dowd
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on the eve of the Vancouver Winter Olympics was accidental, but the incident raises safety issues for the sport, a Canadian coroner reported on Monday.
The report recommended the International Luge Federation require more venue-specific training immediately before major competitions such as the Olympics and on new facilities like the one constructed for the 2010 Games.
An independent safety audit should also be conducted on the track where Kumaritashvili died, and international sporting officials should look at safety protocols for other facilities, especially new ones, the coroner recommended.
Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled and slammed into an exposed steel pillar during his last training run at the Whistler Sliding Center on February 12, just hours before the Games' opening ceremonies.
His death was the first of a luge athlete in competition since 1975, and controversy surrounding it dogged organizers of the Vancouver Games with questions over the safety of the high-speed track's design.
Investigators say the accident appeared to be the result of both Kumaritashvili's relative inexperience with the track and the various safety features that failed to anticipate the type of incident that killed him.
"The collision was a result of an interaction of factors, including high speed, technical challenges and exacting physical forces ... overwhelming the athlete and causing the irretrievable loss of control of the sled," British Columbia Coroner Tom Pawlowski concluded.
Pawlowski said he did not have the authority to rule if the track design was acceptably safe to have been used for the Games, and noted the percentage of crashes at Whistler before Kumaritashvili's accident had been lower and less severe than at many other tracks. Continued...