RIP Nodar: So many questions
Just hours before everyone's supposed to be putting on happy faces, the mood in the runup to these Olympics has gone from skittish to haunted. Forget all those stories about weather, and security, and cost overruns. Nodar Kumaritashvili came here, 21 years old, to have the time of his life. And time ran out for him.
Clearly, these Olympic Games cannot be called off. But they surely can be written off after Kumaritashvili died this morning after a training accident at the Whistler Sliding Centre. At a press conference this afternoon, IOC president Jacques Rogge and VANOC CEO John Furlong expressed their shock and deep condolences and announced an investigation involving the IOC and the international luge federation. Among the unanswered questions:
Will Georgia continue here, and should the sliding sports, and luge in particular, go on as scheduled? The head of the team's delegation said a decision hasn't been made. As for Whistler, Rogge said that team leaders in the sliding sports will be consulted. Other options like making the course shorter, or draping the course with netting, were not addressed at the news conference.
Why did this happen? The Whistler course has acquired a fearsome reputation since it opened in 2007. It was clearly built to operate at the extreme margins of the sliding sports, and has got even faster at these Olympics. Indeed, there were warnings that this was too close to the edge:
"I think they are pushing it a little too much,” Australia’s Hannah Campbell-Pegg said Thursday night after she nearly lost control in training. “To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we’re crash-test dummies? I mean, this is our lives.’’
How much of a factor was experience? Kumaritashvili was never thought to be anything but a raw also-ran, but in a sport like this, operating at speeds like this, why let him or other similar athletes compete at all? This isn't Eric the Eel in the pool.
And speaking of experience, how bad does Canada look now for cutting back on competing nations' practise runs at the new facility? The luge federations of Canada and the U.S. in the past offered each other extra practice runs ahead of the 2002 Salt Lake and world championships in Calgary, but Canada cut back on that agreement this Olympic cycle.
There are more, no doubt. The Olympics have endured tragedies, like the Munich 1972 massacre. But this one will resonate in a different way, after it was replayed over and over on Youtube videos that were shut down by the IOC as fast as they sprung up. There has to be some serious soul-searching going on in the IOC, the sport's leaders and Vancouver organizers.
Rogge, Furlong and IOC spokesman Mark Adams promised more communiques on this. Meantime, the mood in the main press centre, and doubtless up at Whistler and in the athletes' village, is funereal. RIP Nodar.
Related: Jim Byers' Day 1 video report.