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.”