Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death should have been easily avoided

There aren’t many things in this world that leave me struggling to find words but today I am absolutely overwhelmed by the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

There are so many questions yet to be answered as to why this happened but none of the answers can change the truth. A 21-year-old kid is dead because he was fulfilling an athletic dream to compete in front of the world, and that is unacceptable.

Now I’m not here to denounce risky sports entirely because an athlete willing to slide down an ice track at unimaginable speeds with nothing but a helmet and leotard for protection is assuming a certain amount of responsibility for personal injury. But shouldn’t Olympic athletes be able to rest a little easier because they are at the biggest sporting event in the world and surely every safety precaution has been taken?

So the first question I’d like answered is what exactly is an immovable steel support beam doing directly beside the track immediately following the fastest corner the sport has ever seen? And even if the engineering of this facility forced the placement of that beam in that spot, how was no netting or padding installed to keep unprotected sliders from hitting it straight on?

Once these inquiries are responded to I would then like to shift my focus to the ridiculous speeds the IOC, COC, luge officials and/or anyone else involved has allowed this track to reach. Kumaritashvili came out of that corner, known as Thunderbird, at 144.3 km/hr.

Does that seem at all reasonable to anyone?

There have been rumblings around the media centre about the skill level of the young man and whether he was capable of handling the track in Whistler but that just proves my point further. Kumaritashvili was ranked 44th in the world and, while that certainly puts him in the lower half of world-cup lugers, it still made him on of the 44 best athletes in his sport anywhere on earth.

And any sport where less than 50 people are able to successfully compete needs to ease up on the difficulty level. In fact, Kumaritashvili’s crash was not the only one to occur during training, as several incidents have been reported, including the reigning gold medalist Armin Zoggeler of Italy, who luckily escaped his crash unharmed.

All activity on the track has been suspended until further notice but one has to wonder how they plan to convince the other sliders it’s safe to go back out. I have no idea what goes through the mind of any luger, bobsledder or skeleton athlete before they make their descent but I can only imagine it takes a gross amount of self-confidence and invincibility-complexion to go through with it. And there is no way they can possibly block this incident out. Is there?

I don’t know how the next few days will play out and I can’t speculate on what decisions will be made but I don’t envy the person in charge of making the final call on where to go from here. Will the track reopen? I’m fairly certain the answer at some point will be yes. Should the track open? I’m far less certain.

As for the young man’s nation, the Georgian president has said they are considering withdrawing the other seven countrymen from competition as a result of Kumaritashvili’s death. My only response is that would add to the tragedy. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing left for the athletes of Georgia is to regroup, refocus and dedicate every second of these Games to their fallen friend.

I know I will.


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