Luge federation: Driver partly to blame for Olympic death
The international luge federation blamed the death of Georgian racer Nodar Kumaritashvili on his driving mistakes, saying a "complex series of interrelated events" led to the fatal crash during a training run at the Vancouver Olympics.
"Nodar did commit driving errors starting in curve 15-16, which as an accumulation ended in the impact that resulted in him leaving the track and subsequently hitting a post," the federation said in a report Monday, adding that "blunt force trauma to the base of his skull" caused the fatality.
The report also said, however, that the type of accident that led to Kumaritashvili's death had never been seen previously.
"This bowing of the sled has not been seen before and was therefore not predictable by technical and safety experts. No athlete would have control in dealing with this type of 'catapult' effect,'' the report said.
The federation, known as FIL, said that the wall on the left side of the finishing curve of the Whistler track "was deemed to have been correctly calculated and constructed to handle a crash in this area and to prevent the departure from the track by an athlete (under normal crash situations).''
During training on Feb. 12, only hours before the Olympic opening ceremony, Kumaritashvili was flung from the ice at the Whistler Sliding Center and struck a steel pole after losing control of his sled on the final curve.
"After an in-depth analysis we concluded that there was no single reason, but a complex series of interrelated events which led to this tragedy,'' FIL secretary general Svein Romstad said in a statement on the governing body's Web site.
FIL cited Kumaritashvili's tactical errors in preliminary findings within 24 hours of the fatality. The track reopened on a shorter, slower and safer course.
David Kumaritashvili, Nodar's father, said pilot error should not be held responsible for a luge death.
"Yes, any sportsman could make a mistake, but it shouldn't result in a tragic and fatal accident,'' the father said. "He flew off the track. No matter what mistake he had committed, he should not have flown off it. Security measures must be provided.''
The elder Kumaritashvili was driving to Tbilisi to visit his wife in a hospital Monday and said he had no time to read the report thoroughly because of his wife's illness.
The report said there was no unanimous decision when it came to lowering the start of the Olympic luge races, and that FIL anticipates going back to the original starts for future competitions in Whistler, pending more talks.
The report offers no details as to whom ultimately made the final call about shortening the races, which the FIL said was done to reduce speed and provide "an emotional and psychological benefit to the athletes.''
The $110 million track was built for the Olympics two years ago.
In Monday's report, FIL defended Kumaritashvili's credentials to compete at the Olympics.
"The documentation honors the sporting career of Nodar Kumaritashvili and demonstrates the qualification process of the Georgian luger to participate,'' FIL said. "He earned the right to participate.''
The IOC has a policy of "universality'' that helps fund many athletes from smaller countries and encourages governing bodies to find entries for them.
The Georgian was ranked 44th out of 65 sliders in the season-long World Cup standings.
"The FIL believes its current qualification system is correct and stringent enough,'' the report said. "It does not foresee making any recommendations to the IOC for changes.''
The document, written by Romstad and fellow American official Claire DelNegro, was requested by the International Olympic Committee.
The report will be sent to the British Columbia coroner's service. The Canadian authority is expected to publish its examination of how Kumaritashvili died next month. It could decide to hold a formal inquest hearing.
"Nodar lived his life for the love of his sport and the FIL has made it clear in this report that this accident's circumstances were indeed unique,'' Vancouver Olympic Committee chief executive John Furlong said. "We are grateful for their affirmation of the safety measures at the (Whistler Sliding Center) that they took to protect all athletes and for their determination to learn from this tragedy.''
The debate will continue at the FIL Congress scheduled for June in Sochi, Russia -- site of the 2014 Winter Games -- which will soon build its own sliding track.
Sochi organizers have been told to keep well below the world-record 96 mph speeds reached in Whistler.
"The FIL is determined to do what it can to avoid a tragedy like this from occurring again,'' the report said.
More than a year ago, FIL told Sochi officials that they would not homologize, or certify, that track if it was built to allow speed exceeding 84 mph. Kumaritashvili was clocked at 89.4 mph just a split-second before the fatal crash in Whistler, although many racers and luge experts have said it was the combination of speed and a technically demanding course -- not just the speed -- that teetered on being out of control at the 2010 Olympic track.
Preliminary drafts of the 2010-11 international luge, skeleton and bobsled schedules, obtained by The Associated Press, show that the World Cup luge circuit will not compete in Whistler this coming season, although bobsled and skeleton are scheduled to both open their seasons on that track.
The FIL said it anticipates resuming "competition from the original start heights'' for a World Cup luge race planned for the 2011-12 season in Whistler, and for the 2013 world championships, also scheduled to be held on that track.
"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.