Walking on Thin Ice

Death has struck the Olympic Games, but the tragedy could have been avoided

The 2010 Winter Olympic Olympics began with a tribute to 21-year-old luge racer Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died in a training crash on Feb. 12.

A native of the Republic of Georgia, Kumaritashvili was traveling 90 mph when he lost control of his sled and crashed into an unpadded pole outside of the track. He was rushed to the hospital at the bottom of the mountain where he died shortly after.

The track at the Whistler Sliding Centre is said to be built as the fastest track the world has ever seen. Some of the competitors feel the track is too fast and too dangerous. The course boasts corners named “50-50” and “Shiver.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Luge Federation (FIL) decided to re-open the course after raising the exit of corner 16 and changing the ice profile. There had already been two crashes in the previous 24 hours, one of which resulted in a Romanian woman being knocked unconscious.

The IOC and FIL said the accidents were not caused by problems with the track and are taking a “show must go on approach” to the accident. This begs the question: How far is too far?

Extreme sports such as alpine skiing, bobsledding and snowboard cross are becoming faster and more dangerous as athletes test their limits. All athletes are well aware of the risks involved in competing in sports that could result in injury if improperly performed.

However, the athletes should never feel that the surface or course in which they are competing on is the reason for the danger. Safety should be put above all else in any competition and winning an Olympic gold medal is not worth sacrificing one’s life.

The track was originally built to allow speeds of 85 mph, but many lugers have reached speeds exceeding 95 mph. The World Luge Federation saw the speeds in time trials months before the Olympics began and raised concerns. The IOC, however, knew of the dangers and did nothing to correct the problem or change the course in any way.

The Canadian luge team is not complaining as its members were allowed over 300 test runs each. Racers from other nations were limited to 40 runs. The IOC allowed host-nation Canada this tremendous advantage over other nations.

Since Olympic athletes are banned from using performance enhancing drugs, the IOC should be banned from having bias toward the home nation. If Canada takes the top two or even sweeps the medals in the event, the IOC will bear the full brunt of scrutiny from nations around the world, and rightly so. In this case the home team has a deadly unfair advantage.