Luge body pledges to meet demands for safer tracks
The International Luge Federation plans to make all the changes requested by a Canadian coroner to improve the sport's safety after Nodar Kumaritashvili's fatal crash at the Vancouver Olympics.
Secretary general Svein Romstad told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the governing body is very responsive to demands to make luge safer following a ''sad part of our history.''
The Georgian racer died when he lost control of his sled at nearly 90 mph and flew off the slick Whistler track, striking a metal post only hours before the games opened Feb. 12.
In a report published Monday, a British Columbia coroner Tom Pawlowski declared the 21-year-old Kumaritashvili's death accidental and called for ''a comprehensive safety audit.'' He also asked the governing bodies of Winter Olympics sliding sports to examine how they create tracks.
''It was tough to read because it just rehashes a very, very sad part of our history,'' Romstad said of the report. ''I thought it was very thorough. We are going to address all the coroner's recommendations, but that is already in process.''
The luge federation has already made progress ensuring that the 2014 Olympic track - set to begin construction soon in Sochi, Russia - will meet tougher safety standards. An independent analysis completed last month by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology projected that the maximum speed will be 83.3 mph - below the requested limit.
''That was a very important step looking forward to the future,'' Romstad said.
Olympians will have mandatory training time at Sochi, while a working group that includes athletes will recommend amending rules and qualifying standards for the games. Pawlowski's report took into account the luge federation's own probe, published in April, which said the fatal crash could not have been foreseen.
The coroner cited Kumaritashvili's ''relative lack of experience'' on the toughest courses as a factor - a suggestion rejected Tuesday by the racer's family.
Kumaritashvili was 44th in the World Cup standings upon arriving at Whistler. He crashed in three of 25 runs, 15 from the highest start gate, prior to his fatal slide in practice.
Romstad said Canadian Olympic organizers had allowed racers ''more training than had commonly been available,'' but the secretary general expects teams will soon be forced to make use of additional access to the track at future Olympics.
''We are going to make sure there is adequate training available,'' Romstad said.
Romstad said the federation was committed to returning to Whistler for scheduled World Cup races in the 2011-12 season and the 2013 world championships. However, the highest starting gate at the track, from which racers reached speeds over 95 mph, might never again be used.
Romstad said the federation is looking to continue racing from the lower and slower start ramps that the Olympic medal events eventually used. Men had raced from the originally intended women's gate, and the women began at the juniors' start.
''As we stand today, that's the way it is ... until we can ascertain what can be done to possibly move back up again. We just have to take one step at a time,'' Romstad said.
Officials are still assessing safety at Whistler but have already imposed strict regulations at tracks hosting World Cup events and at the world championships in January at Cesana, Italy.
Romstad said ''across the board'' changes included lowering start gates, raising track walls and modifying angles of the ice surface. The continuing safety review means further changes are possible before racers return to Whistler or compete at Sochi, Romstad said.
''Everybody is determined to make sure this accident doesn't happen again and that we do the right thing,'' he said. ''It's an ongoing thing that we will never forget what happened.''