Olympics - Luge - Death confirms worst fears over Whistler track

WHISTLER Sat Feb 13, 2010 3:22am IST

A volunteer cleans a sign bearing the Olympic Rings ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at the Whistler Sliding Centre, British Columbia February 9, 2010.  REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

A volunteer cleans a sign bearing the Olympic Rings ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at the Whistler Sliding Centre, British Columbia February 9, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski

WHISTLER (Reuters) - Grave warnings over the safety of the lightning-quick Whistler Sliding Centre proved tragically prescient on Friday when an accident claimed the life of 21-year-old Georgian luge competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Kumaritashvili lost control on the 16th and final bend of the track and was launched over the lip of the track before colliding with a pillar at 90mph.

The sixth training session was immediately suspended and with Kumaritashvili flown away by helicopter after attempts to save his life at track-side, organisers were left with a dilemma whether to hold the first competitive runs as scheduled on Saturday.

Only on Thursday, a luge federation official told Reuters that sliding tracks needed to be slowed down.

"We are going to have to put in speed limits for the next track which will be built for sure for the next Olympics," Wolfgang Harder said after Austria's Manuel Pfister clocked 154kmh in training -- the fastest recorded speed in luge.

"We think 155kmh should be the limit. We have to take care of the security of our athletes."

KNOCKED UNCONSCIOUS

The Whistler track, which drops the equivalent of a 48-storey building in 1,400 metres and includes corners nicknamed 50-50 and Shiver, has been the main topic of conversation in the lead-up to the sliding events.

On Thursday, there were several crashes and Romanian woman slider Violeta Stramaturaru was briefly knocked unconscious after a high-speed spill.

Even the world's best sliders have found the course hard to handle. Double Olympic champion Armin Zoeggeler crashed during his opening training run on Friday before walking stoney-faced past waiting journalists.

American veteran Tony Benshoof, who was fourth in Turin, also hurt his foot when he bounced into a wall on Friday.

Benshoof was one of a number of competitors who expressed concerns that only the host Canadian team had been allowed to train regularly on the track which is acknowledged as the fastest ever built.

"The limited training makes it potentially dangerous but I think all the athletes have had sufficient training," he told Reuters this week.

"I'm not surprised (The Canadians) they gave us the bare minimum ... It was frustrating but then you can't blame them, most countries would have done the same."

Benshoof also feared a crash like that suffered by Kumaritashvili could happen.

"Some of these guys have only been sliding two or three years whereas I've been sliding since my 21st year, that's a big experience gap," he said.

"Yet is scares me every time I go down it. I think it's dangerous for the less experienced countries. I actually thought someone might get hurt in Turin but thankfully everybody walked away."

(Editing by Jon Bramley; To query or comment on this story emailsportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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