Report: Olympics organizers got warning
Organizers of the 2010 Winter Olympics were warned almost one year before a Georgian luger died that athletes could be "badly injured or worse" on the track and that they could get the blame, a report said Monday.
Organizing committee chief executive John Furlong said in a March 2009 email obtained by public broadcaster CBC that the International Luge Federation (FIL) had warned "that the track is in their view too fast and someone could get badly hurt."
"An athlete gets badly injured or worse and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing," Furlong added, referring to a copy of a letter sent from the FIL to the track's designer expressing concern over high speeds.
FIL president Josef Fendt had noted speeds up to 12.4 miles per hour (20 kilometers per hour) faster than the track designer had projected.
"Most of the athletes were able to cope with these extremely high speeds," Fendt wrote to IBG Designs in Germany. "Nevertheless, overstepping this limit would be an absolute unreasonable demand for the athletes... This causes me great worry."
CBC said Furlong asked lawyers to look into it and Tim Gayda, organizing committee vice president for sport, replied: "I don't believe there is anything to do."
Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, died hours before the Feb. 12 opening of the Winter Games in Vancouver when his sled hurtled off the luge track at Whistler and slammed into a steel pillar, casting a shadow over the start of the Games.
A coroner's report released in October said no "single factor" was to blame for Kumaritashvili's death, but pointed to his "relative lack of experience... on this challenging track" as contributing to the accident.
Georgia's Olympic Committee rejected the conclusions.
The coroner's report also noted that the president of the International Luge Federation had expressed concerns to Canadian officials one year before the Games regarding speed hazards at the luge track.
Vancouver Games organizers found in their own inquiry that the notoriously high-speed track -- later modified and shortened -- was not at fault, blaming driver error instead.
Furlong told CBC on Monday, "My concern was, are we doing everything that we need to do? And when I spoke to our team, spoke with the sport, and spoke with everybody involved, the feeling was that we were doing exactly what our responsibilities demand we do."
He noted that the organizing committee was "not an expert in these areas" and that it relied on sports officials' assessment of the track.
Canada's Minister of State for Sports Gary Lunn expressed support for Furlong, saying the email exchange revealed Furlong had done "additional due diligence" in the matter.