Report: Athlete error caused fatal luge crash

Next Olympic track will have to be slower

April 19, 2010|By Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

A report by the International Luge Federation has concluded that a series of events, including driver error, caused the crash that killed Republic of Georgia athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili just hours before the start of the Winter Olympics.

Sandwiched between a glowing introductory tribute to Kumaritashvili and an attempt by the federation to repair its image in the final pages is a re-creation of the athlete's final moments and the safety measures taken before and after the crash.

"Nodar did commit driving errors starting in Curve 15/16…that resulted in him leaving the track and subsequently hitting a post causing blunt force trauma to the base of his skull," the report said.

Inspectors could not find any flaws in the ice near the bottom of the course and technicians said his sled met all standards set by the luge federation (FIL). The report notes that neither track experts who monitored more than 30,000 runs, nor computer models "foresaw the possibility of the event that happened."

Kumaritashvili, 21, was ranked 44th out of 65 sliders in World Cup points and had qualified for the Olympics by racing in nine events over two seasons, four more races than the FIL requires. He had completed 16 runs from the men's start at the Olympic track at Whistler and was on his final training run when he died.

Video replays indicate Kumaritashvili's run was "routine" as he exited Curve 15, just seconds from the finish line. He entered Curve 16—a banked section nicknamed Thunderbird—late and tried to muscle the sled to the right side of the track instead of letting it ride high. But at 89.4 mph, powerful G-forces pulled the sled to the left and he lost control, his right shoulder dropped and his spiked glove on the same side struck the ice. Those two involuntary reactions made the sled pivot into the right wall at "an exceptional angle" and then "catapult" the slider off the track and into a metal support post, the report said.

Olympic competition continued on schedule, but luge races on the $105 million track were shorter to reduce speeds.

Next month, the British Columbia coroner's office is expected to release a report, which could lead to criminal charges.

David Kumaritashvili told the Associated Press that his son should not have paid for his mistakes with his life.

"Yes, any sportsman could make a mistake, but it shouldn't result in a tragic and fatal accident," he said.

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