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Nodar Kumaritashvili's death blamed on driver error, coincidences

The report: The Feb. 12 death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the 2010 Winter Olympics involved driver error and "a complex series of interrelated events." The International Luge Federation (FIL) findings, as concluded by FIL secretary general Svein Romstad and executive member Claire DelNegro, were issued yesterday stating there was "no single reason" for Kumaritashvili being flung off his sled, off the track and into a steel pole during the Vancouver Games. The International Olympic Committee asked the FIL to investigate the death of the 21-year-old Olympian, who had qualified for Vancouver based on his World Cup ranking (44th).

The Whistler track: The FIL acknowledged the $119-million track in Whistler, B.C., exceeded its original top-speed calculations by almost 18 kilometres an hour (153.98 instead of 136). This was thought to still be "within the ability of the luge athletes." As evidence, FIL said there were 32,646 runs down the high-speed, technically-demanding track (for luge, bobsleigh and skeleton) with 203 crashes. It was also noted Kumaritashvili had 26 runs at Whistler, 16 of which came from the men's starting line at the top. The rest were from the women's and novice's starts further down the track.

The accident: Kumaritashvili was on the wrong side of the straightaway heading into the last curve. When he tired to correct himself he lost control because of increased G-forces. The sled hit a side wall "at an exceptional angle" and "bowed" instead of breaking. That launched Kumaritashvili over the track wall and into a pole. He then suffered "blunt force trauma to the base of the skull." Tim Farstad, executive director of the Canadian Luge Association, said, "I've never seen a guy come off the track before."

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The response: In the immediate aftermath of Kumaritashvili's death, adjustments were made to the track, including raising the side walls at key corners while "squaring off the curve of the ice between the base of the track and the side walls of the outrun" where the crash occurred. The FIL race management team decided to lower the start point to reduce speeds and to "serve as an emotional and psychological benefit to all athletes."

The family: David Kumaritashvili, Nodar's father and a former luger, had spoken to his son before the fatal run. The son was afraid of one of the track's corners; the father said not to risk it. "Yes, any sportsman can make a mistake," David Kumaritashvili told The Associated Press. "But it shouldn't result in a tragic and fatal accident. … No matter what mistake he had committed, he should not have flown off. Security measures must be provided."

The legacy: Donations from the IOC, Vancouver Games organizers and the Association of International Winter Olympic Sports Federations have been made to the Kumaritashvili family. There are plans to build a luge track in the Bakuriana region of Georgia, where Kumaritashvili grew up, and name it in his honour.

2014 Sochi: Local organizers for the 2014 Olympics have been told the speeds on their luge, bobsleigh and skeleton track should not exceed 135 kilometres an hour. The FIL has approved Sochi's preliminary track designs.

Whistler: Bobsleigh and skeleton races will be held in Whistler to open the 2010-2011 World Cup season. There will be a luge World Cup race in 2012 as a lead-up to the 2013 world championships in British Columbia. "The Whistler track is important to our development in Canada," Farstad said. "We've been in Calgary for years but now we have a new group of people to recruit from. We hope to double the recruits for luge so we have kids from Whistler and Calgary fighting for spots on the national team."

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Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. More


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