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02/12/2010

Runaway sled

Bernard Weil, Chief Photographer/Multimedia

Whatever happens during luge competition, it's always in the blink of any eye. That was the case last night at the Whistler Sliding Centre during the men's luge training runs. 

Positioned at turn 16, I tried to capture rider on sled, speeding by at 120km/h plus through the Olympic rings painted on the ice surface. It's the kind of feature picture I like to get early at the Olympics so I can concentrate on the start and finish areas during competition in the weeks to come. In the time it takes to type this comma, riders blast through this turn without any visual cue. The only way to anticipate them coming is the progressively louder sound of the sled on ice as it approaches. Then, with careful timing, one frame is all you get to capture the rider flying by over the rings. 

Only this time it was different. When I heard marshals yelling further up the track, I had a hunch something was wrong. As the blur flew by, I nailed one frame and voila, rider is AWOL! Nodar Kumaritashvili, of Georgia, probably fell off off at turn 13, which is known for its high degree of difficulty. Somewhere, he was tumbling down the course at high speed.

Strangely, the sled kept a perfect course, speeding toward the uphill finish area, then making a perfect run backwards through my turn a moment later, still at a high speed, and once again returning past the rings at a more manageable speed at which time the marshals could grab onto it.

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 The sled of Nodar Kumaritashvili, of Georgia, slides empty through the Olympic rings in turn 16 after he crashed further up the track, during men's luge training in Whistler  Feb. 10, 2010.

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Shaken but uninjured, Kumaritashvili staggers off the course after crashing.

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How horrifying that he had this difficulty two days ago, and went back for another run today...his final run.

The Olympics are a wonderful rich tradition but there has to be a reasonable limit to some of these events. Lugers flying off their sleds over and over again?

I am disturbed that the pole Kumaritashvili hit was not in any way padded nor protectively blocked.

My sincerest sympathy to his family, friends, teammates, countrymen. Such a tragic loss. May he rest in peace.

a senseless loss, in the great Canadian tradition of going on the cheap instead of spending a bit more money and doing it right, that track could have been designed to be much safer.

I am ashamed to see photo's of cpr being given to this athlete with blood runnind down his chin. this is a horrible time for this man and his family. Some of which probably haven't eveb heard the news yet. A picture of a lifeless man after a tragedy at a what is suppose to be a wonderful event, wow, Does the Toronto Star even care?

Padding and protection wouldn't have made a difference at 140 kph.

But indeed, this sport is terrifying.

Yes, how is it an acceptable design to have all those poles a half metre away from the ice surface where speeds are known to reach 140km/h? This wouldn't be done at an auto racing track. Why here?

Such sorrow on this the opening day when Olympians should be rejoicing. When I first saw the images, my immediate thoughts were on why the posts were so close to the track. There was nothing to stop someone from being flung into them. No padding evident, no barrier either. This was preventable. My condolences to his family and fellow athletes.

What a shocking tragedy!
I ordinarily do not watch Olympics coverage, summer or winter, and only just happened to be at home today and decided to turn the tv on to see some of the early coverage. I tuned in just as the luge accident happened and was being reported by the CBC. It was clear to me that the luger's impact against the steel column was fatal; his legs hung down, lifeless. I was utterly sickened by the horror of the tragedy, and don't know if I can ever watch another Olympic event in my lifetime. Similarly, when on Sept 3 1989, Snowbird pilot Capt. Shane Antaya's plane nosedived into Lake Ontario during the CNE Air Show while my 2 young boys and I were in attendance, I have been unable to bring myself to attend an air show.

Sorry but common sense dictates that there should have been either no poles at such a dangerous turn or some sort of netting or hay bales or just snow piles in case a luger at these dangerous turns fly off the track. It's a sad day. I am extremely sad for this young lad and IOC, Vanoc and the Engineers who design this track must take full responsibility. For starters the track was too dangerous and then there were no adequate protection for the athletes. What a Shame! I pray that God give strength to his family and friends.

I am utterly shocked at the lack of class the Star has shown by publishing such graphic pictures of the crash. I do not understand how there was no apparent discretion in publishing a picture of paramedics doing CPR and First Aid on a man who is obviously hemorrhaging blood from his mouth.

Show some respect for the man's family and friends.

My sincerest sympathies go out to Nodar Kumaritashvili's family in this time.

I am horrified that The Star would publish photos of this tragic event whilst at the same time reporting that officials are still trying to reach family members. What an indignity to his family. I am not anticipating that the star will publish this comment

A perfect example of how deregulation puts lives at stake. What is the solution? Regulate construction of the runs to optimize rider safety so that it's challenging but not life endangering. That would cost more money, lessening the profits of the construction company, and this is where industrialists would cry that their "freedom" is being taken away.

I know that you meant well with the "padded nor blocked" but at those speeds it was like falling several stories. No amount of padding would help and blocking becomes the next deadly obstruction. The sport should learn from NASCAR (!?). When cars were breaking into the 200 mph range, NASCAR imposed restrictor plate regs in order to slow down the cars. Whether slowing the sleds (probably not likely) or redesigning the tracks with benefit of roller-coaster design software to calculate speed as well as G-forces. Will it be expensive to alter a luge run? Well, what price would you place on Mr. Kumaritashvili's life? Why don't we ask his family? May God bless them with comfort and peace.

I think there is a simple equation here: fastest track in the world + more accidents than usual + athletes' fears + reduced training time for non-Canadian (thus including less experienced teams) + a death = maybe this track pushes the limits too far? Not too late to call it. It may be the safe thing to do, but also a smart, classy and honourable thing.

I think Like everyone else I couldn't agree more about the poles next to the track. Even my boyfriend said (after seeing the video), why on earth weren't those poles covered in some sort of padding. Who knows if padding the poles would have even of made much of a difference at the speed he was going, but at least it would have shown that the olympic committee took absolutely every precaution in it's athletes safety. And why don't the walls of the track go up higher than that? Was the track actually built more for the fans who wanted to see the action? I am just so shocked and horrified. I don't know how they could have missed something SO obvious as those poles. And why on earth do people feel the need to post pictures of him with blood coming out of his mouth, nose, and ears all over the internet!!?? I feel nothing but heartbreak for Nodar and for his family. There are no words to express how tragic this is.

Move the luge to Salt Lake. They still have the course, right?

To those that think the pole should have been padded....it would not have made any difference - would 6" of foam on the front of a truck make any difference if it hit you at 138kph? The poor man went from 138kph to 0 in 0.01 sec. With padding, maybe it took 0.015sec - he would still not survive. That area of the track needs to be redesigned. But it is a dangerous sport.

A horrible tragedy. There is nothing that anyone can do or say to make things better. I only wish the reporting of this accident had been less graphic out of respect for everyone.

I have to agree with eric arthur. unless they can significantly slow down the ice surface itself, say by altering the surface temperature, or move the starting gate up (unlikely at this late juncture), then they might just have to go ahead and cancel or move these events. no way to make this track much safer with better barriers in such a short amount of time.

In a sense, this is unavoidable. People have died in sports - all kind of sports - and will still do. While lack in safety may be invoked, this is the fatality of the performance vs. safety race that's been going on forever, and a price readily paid in many sports. On the other hand though, it's saddening this also falls in the trend of sports industrialisation. Sports have ceased to be about Man showing greater physical ability and skills. Now it's all about breakthrough engineering, last-innovation materials, untraceable or accepted "food supplements", and what not. And numbers. So many numbers. Split-gram weight, millisecond timing, 137Km/h. Has anyone even stopped to wonder why the hell do we even know he was doing 137 Km/h? Or care? Would his death have been less tragic at 60Km/h? Yet in every news report, the speed is mentioned. It's as signifficant data as his death. It's not that he died, but what speed he died at. Face it, in the race against hard steel and numbers, Man is bound to fail tragicly. And it's just what happened here. I think maybe some day, a ban on all professional sporting should take hold. Not a government ban, but a consumer ban. Us sports' consumers are guilty for his death as much as anyone. Just turn off that damn TV once in a while, and go DO sport. Sport that's not millisecond-timed. Where last-generation polymer composites are not the talk of the day. Where "food supplements" means a lousy chocolate bar to keep your sugar up. BUT for all that matters, STOP WATCHING THE NUMBERS! How many of you ever just idly leave the TV running on the sports channel without really caring about the sports, just taking a quick peek at the end of the run to see THE NUMBER, THE SCORE. It's these numbers that killed Nodar, above poor track design, lack of training, or safety measures.

The luge accident was horrific & tragic. However, everyone needs to keep in mind that the IOC recommended & approved the design of this track. It has nothing to do with poor Canadian workmanship or cheaping out on building materials. The IOC needs to make sure that safety becomes the number one consideration when luge tracks are designed. That's the only thing that could have prevented what happened. Let's hope they've learned from this awful mistake. My condolences go to this young man's family & fellow Olympians.

I am waiting for someone to come up to explain why those wood and steel poles were placed on that race track. Tragic mistake, very very poor track design. It seems too late to fix that.

My heart goes out to the family of this poor man. So young and so tragic. I hope they cancel the event at its current location. How can any athlete go through this track at this point without that being the only thought going through their head. Hope Georgia wins at least one gold. From what I understand this mans cousin is a coach. It will never unfortunately bring his life back but at least they dedicate it in his memory. Not my country but will definitely be rooting for them. Its less about who wins and loses and more about us all being human and all knowing above else what is most important. So sad sometimes it takes something so tragic to make us all remember that.

no steel poles, what the hell? if those steel poles wouldn't have been there, would he have died? sounds like a poorly designed course with safety hazards

This was a very tragic accident, if it could of been prevented no one will ever truly know. Safety is an important part of any sport whether it be the Olympics or not. My condolences go to all of the brave athletes who attended the opening ceremonies in his memory. I must also comment on my pride of being a Canadian when there was a moment silence you could hear a pin drop (something that should be shown to the American public) I wish ALL the athletes, being Canadian or not, the best of luck, all of you can hold your head up with great pride. May God watch over all of you.

Sonia

This is a very dangerous sport. I remember some guy losing their head.

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