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VANOC feared lugers would get “badly injured or worse”

Olympic officials identified risk of dangerous speeds a year before fatal crash


 

Almost one year ago today, Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, died on a training run just hours before the Vancouver Games’ opening ceremonies. Today, documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show that VANOC chief John Furlong expressed concern that an athlete could get “badly injured or worse” on the controversial sliding track in Whistler almost a year before the Games began. In March 2009, Furlong received a copy of a letter sent to the luge track’s designer from the president of the International Luge Federation, Josef Fendt. Fendt expressed worry about the track’s speeds and the potentially unreasonable demand on the athletes. Following this, Furlong wrote to VANOC officials that echoed Fendt’s concern. “Imbedded in this note [cryptic as it may be] is a warning that the track is, in their view, too fast and someone could get badly hurt. An athlete gets badly injured or worse, and I think the case could be made that we were warned and did nothing. That said, I’m not sure where the way out is on this. Our legal guys should review at least.” The response from Tim Gayda, vice-president for sport, was: “I don’t believe there is anything to do.”

The Globe and Mail


 
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VANOC feared lugers would get “badly injured or worse”

  1. (First, the track-speed is a red-herring; I want to get that out of the way right off.

    Someone left a steel pole in the way. THAT is the issue.)

    Aircraft, highways, automobiles, modern high-profile sports. All the same thing. You do a risk assessment. This is not base-jumping, where the RISK is the thrill.

    You can't hide behind, 'this is sports, you take the risk, don't wimp out.'

    This is not your old-fashioned, Persian wooden-Polo-ball-in-the-teeth, man-up, sort of sports.

    And once you commit to risk assessment, there is liability. Same as faulty aircraft design, dangerous highways. Same thing.

    I call the luge 'tragedy' negligent homicide. Nothing more, nothing less.

    As a citizen of Vancouver, and earlier of the North Shore, not far from Whistler, I extend my apologies, and the TRUTH, to the grieving family.

    negligent homicide.

    • Clearly it was not. Luging is not a risk-free activity and cannot be made so. It was a tragedy that a young athlete died, but there is no evidence anyone was negligent in designing the course. The risks inherent in a very fast course were identified, as is evidenced by Mr. Furlong's e-mail. But action was taken to address the issues and the experts in the sliding sports involved approved the final layout of the course. Hindsight is easy, but there are clearly no grounds to lay the blame you are trying to lay.

      • If only that were so, evidence about the high speeds and its damaging effects on athletes were known within VANOC before this report. Hollingsworth and other athletes publicly stated that they were scared of the course and had been injured on it around 8 months ahead of the games. The language of their statements spoke volumes.
        The restricted access to practice that the host organisation enforced against foreign teams while knowing that the course was so fast and had caused issues with their own athletes could be argued as a contributory factor too.
        Judging by the scrambling by the federatioon and VANOC at the time of the death, they realised that they might have to answer to something.
        Homicide might be a stretch but there was definitely an unwillingness to take available evidence at face value. Negligence is an almost certainty.

        • It is possible there could be a finding of negligence, although that would be more an issue of the sliding sports authorities who confirmed the design and operation of the site, not VANOC. But on the whole it seems everyone did what was reasonable in the circumstances and while in hindsight more could always be done to prevent an accident, the test is always what was reasonable, given the knowledge and experience of those responsible. It is a fast course, and the Canadian team had more chance to practice than anyone else – but that is par for the course, so to speak. And the course remains as it was designed – and no one else has had an accident similar to that which killed Mr. Kumarashtavili – after literally hundreds, if not thousands, of runs down the same course. Sometimes an accident is just an accident.

  2. So who pays? It should be the International Olympic Committee, but I suspect they'll dodge the whole thing and leave the costs to Canada's Olympic Committee, or worse yet, the Canadian taxpayer.

    • What costs are you referring to?

      • What costs?
        The negligence lawsuit.
        Don't kid yourself…now that there's a paper trail, it's coming.

        • As in most cases, if there is a lawsuit the insurance companies will respond.

          • Insurance companies won't pay out if it can be proven that concerns were voiced in advance and nothing was done about it. It would void whatever policy was in place.

          • Your proposition that "nothing was done about it" isn't supported by any of the facts. It appears that cocerns were raised, VANOC relied on the experts to take whatever steps were considered necessary and eveyone believed that the course was safe for competition. It was a tragedy that a luger died, but many winter sports are inherently dangerous, and the example of a single accident among thousands of runs down that course isn't evidence of negligence.

  3. JMHO but the International Luge Federation should have pursued this and also listened to those athletes that said it was too fast. All this has done is open up the wounds of a grieving father.

    From their regulations:

    "To carry out all measures to prevent accidents most effectively" http://www.fil-luge.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Doc

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