Olympic Luge Death: Federation Blames The Victim
Gravitational force overpowered out-of-control Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and left him unable to avoid the crash that claimed his life hours before the opening ceremony at the Vancouver Olympics, the International Luge Federation concluded in a report Monday.
Still, the FIL insisted Kumaritashvili was "absolutely qualified" to be at the games.
The FIL reaffirmed that the crash was an "unforeseeable fatal accident" caused by a number of factors. It added that Kumaritashvili's sled reacted in ways that computer simulations could not foresee or mimic, the high-speed impact throwing him surprisingly skyward.
"No athlete would have control in dealing with this type of 'catapult' effect," the report said.
Kumaritashvili's death during a training run Feb. 12 was the first at a sanctioned luge track in nearly 35 years.
"You have to make sure this doesn't happen again," FIL secretary general Svein Romstad told The Associated Press. "It's very emotional, even today."
The International Olympic Committee thanked the FIL for a "thorough report."
The FIL called it a final report, but in actuality, many more will be delivered in the coming weeks and months.
The coroner in British Columbia will incorporate FIL's findings into its own report, expected soon. FIL meetings in May and June will further discuss track safety, particularly at the facility to be built for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. And it's unclear what changes, if any, will be made to the actual structure of the 2010 Olympic track in Whistler.
"I'm willing to accept that FIL has done a report that identifies how it believes it happened, but it stops short of making recommended changes in procedures and policies," USA Luge CEO Ron Rossi told The AP. "At this point, the report is just informative, part of the process."
Much of the report supports what the FIL has said since the crash, that Kumaritashvili's mistakes primarily caused his death.
The report said Kumaritashvili exited the 15th curve in the 16-turn course too late, causing him to take a less-than-favorable line into the final curve. The FIL decided that Kumaritashvili tried to keep the sled low on the track, which raised the amount of G-force he would experience in the final seconds.
With that, he lost control.
Kumaritashvili's right hand reached for the ice, which distributed more weight onto his right shoulder. Combined with the G-force, that meant the sled runners basically steered him straight to the right – in this case, toward the inside corner of the wall.
"Both actions literally served to pivot it in a similar way a sharp turn is made when a handbrake is applied to a car at a high rate of speed," the report said.
Typically, when a sled hits the wall like Kumaritashvili's did, the runners will break or the slider will be thrown off the wall. Neither happened, and the energy threw Kumaritashvili upward and over the opposite side of the track, milliseconds after he was clocked at 89.4 mph.
Kumaritashvili's hips cleared that wall by a few inches. Had that wall been a bit higher, he would have likely remained in the track. Instead, he sailed over the barrier, the back of his head striking a steel beam – the fatal blow.
The FIL said that, in normal situations, that wall would have been high enough to keep a slider from exiting the track.
"Neither the computer simulations nor the technical experts who (certified) the track ... foresaw the possibility," the report said.
In some ways, the report creates more questions, specifically regarding the decision to shorten the Olympic luge course.
The FIL revealed race management teams met at least twice after the crash and had "a divided opinion" about lowering the start ramp for the men's competition, which was the first medal event on the track following Kumaritashvili's death. There was no unanimous consensus about lowering the start for the women's and doubles races either, the FIL said.
Shortening the courses was done to reduce speed and provide "an emotional and psychological benefit to the athletes." Numerous sliders crashed during Olympic training runs, prompting many to suggest that the combination of super-high speed and tight, demanding curves would be too much for lesser-experienced sliders to handle.
"In this case here, it was looked at from all opinions," Romstad said. "It was pretty much very straightforward that once not everybody agreed that going from the top was the right decision, everybody acquiesced."
The FIL is not scheduled to race in Whistler next season. Bobsled and skeleton are to race there this fall.
The FIL said it anticipates resuming "competition from the original start heights" for both a World Cup luge race in 2011-12 and the 2013 world championships in Whistler.
"However, due to the seriousness of this particular accident, several meetings of FIL technical experts are scheduled at the time of this report to discuss the viability of this desire," the FIL report said.
The report also makes clear that keeping speed in check will be a top priority at tracks going forward. More than a year ago, the FIL told Sochi officials they would not homologize, or certify, that track if it was built to allow speed exceeding 135 kmh, or roughly 84 mph.
"The question is, why did he go out of the track? Part of that is the speed," Rossi said. "Lesser speed, he wouldn't have gotten such potential energy and he wouldn't have gone above the line of the wall."
David Kumaritashvili, the slider's father, agreed.
"No matter what mistake he had committed, he should not have flown off it," the slider's father said.
Canadian Olympic luger Regan Lauscher, in an article she wrote for the Calgary Herald before the Kumaritashvili report was made public, said the Georgian's death was about as probable as "getting hit by lightning."
"We race our unarmored bodies down ice tracks with no brakes and no mechanism for slowing down," Lauscher wrote. "There is no seatbelt and no air bag. ... Hence, we go fast. Extremely fast.
"Nodar's crash wasn't out of the ordinary," Lauscher added. "Its fatal consequence was."
Kumaritashvili was not a medal hopeful, and was ranked 44th in this past season's World Cup standings.
"He deserved to be at the Olympic Games," Romstad said. "There's no doubt in my mind he was absolutely qualified."
Kumaritashvili's family has received money from the FIL, from private donors, from auctions like those conducted by 2010 Olympic racers like Tony Benshoof of the U.S. and Hannah Campbell-Pegg of Australia, and will soon collect an insurance settlement from a policy Vancouver officials obtained for the games.
"It's just incredibly important that the family is being taken care of," Romstad said. "You can't correct this. You can't undo this."
AP Sports Writers Chris Lehourites in London, Stephen Wilson in Washington, and Associated Press writers Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Eric Willemsen in Vienna contributed to this report.