Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

Track speed is the real issue in luger's death

Enjoy an up close and personal look at the action in Canada.
By Tracee Hamilton
Sunday, February 14, 2010


So let me see if I've got this straight: According to spokesmen for the International Luge Federation, the Whistler sliding track, where Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili lost his life on Friday, is not too fast. We definitely don't want future tracks to be this fast -- speeds can reach 95 miles per hour. But this track -- at which speeds can reach 95 miles per hour -- is not too fast.

The track is also safe. The accident was caused by driver error. So we're going to move the start line lower on the track, add higher walls and make ice adjustments, but not because the track is unsafe. No, it's just a placebo to make the obviously shaken athletes feel better.

Oh, and Canadian athletes didn't Bogart track time at Whistler.

My head hurts.

Here are some facts we know, facts that all the double talk Saturday can't change. Fact: Luge is a dangerous sport, and accidents happen, although fatalities are rare. Before Friday, the most recent was in December 1975. Fact: Kumaritashvili was not a top luger, but he had taken 26 runs on the Whistler course in the two years since it opened -- the most recent, prior to Olympic training, in November. Fact: Kumaritashvili, 21, is dead.

When he flew off the track, Kumaritashvili experienced "a G-force that literally collapsed his body, rendering it difficult to control the sled," said a shaken federation secretary general Svein Romstad of the United States at a news conference yesterday in Whistler. "Once this happened, he was literally at the mercy of the path of his sled."

If an athlete experiences G-forces that collapse his body, I'm going to go out on a limb and posit that that athlete was traveling too fast.

The desire to go faster, of course, is what put the "Citius" in "Citius Altius Fortius." But in the case of luge -- and skeleton and bobsled as well -- increased speeds are derived more from the equipment and the track than from any physical advances. If technology is allowed to progress faster than man's ability to physically control it, at some point it may outstrip the endurance of flesh and bone.

"We may just have found the limit," said U.S. bobsled driver Mike Kohn of Chantilly.

Kohn said bobsleds were reaching speeds of 95 mph two years ago at Whistler, and he expects speeds to exceed 96 mph when competition begins this week. Those numbers are similar to speeds posted by lugers. With such speeds being batted about, luge officials Saturday decided to make some adjustments to the track -- but not for safety concerns.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company