Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Luge death a safety error


Quickly blaming a luge athlete for his fatal accident, then hurriedly altering the sliding course's design to prevent further tragedies invited understandable charges of International Olympic Committee hypocrisy and suspicions that safety was secondary in one of the world's most potentially lethal sports.

Until the IOC completes a thorough investigation and adopts appropriate design modifications for luge courses, the world body will forever be haunted by an image of incompetence and indifference.

Olympic officials blundered egregiously by first waving off the training death of Nodar Kumaritashvili as "athlete error," always an easy out for culpable parties. Faced with outrage about callousness, the IOC ordered the luge track's wall heightened for a distance of 100 feet and padding added to support poles. The course also was shortened.

Lugers whooshing as fast as 95 mph down a twisting track face far more peril than companion sliding sports. Bobsledders are encased in a vehicle. Skeleton sliders race belly down and face forward and can control direction and speed more easily. Lugers are on their back, feet first and in less control.

Not even the most skilled athletes can or should be expected to compete on facilities that ignore the physical limits of humans to control speed and gravitational forces. Tentative evidence indicates the Whistler luge course failed to account for the human factor.

When preventable tragedies mar the Olympics, the historic games lose their lofty purpose and become spectacles in which competitors try to cheat death as much as win medals.




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