AP Interview: Top official says report finds no single reason for Olympic luger’s fatal crash

By Graham Dunbar, AP
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

AP Interview: official says no 1 reason for death

GENEVA — An official investigation into the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili at the Vancouver Olympics will find no single cause for his fatal luge accident.

Svein Romstad, secretary general of the International Luge Federation, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the FIL report is set to describe the 21-year-old Georgian’s crash at 90 mph on Whistler’s sliding track as something that could not have been foreseen.

“Everybody wants a scapegoat and to say, ‘It was that person’ (to blame),” Romstad, the report’s lead writer, said.

“I think one thing we will see is that it’s an amalgamation of a lot of different things. What happened to Nodar was very, very unique.”

Kumaritashvili died when he was thrown through the air and slammed into a trackside steel pole after losing control of his sled coming out of the final curve at nearly 90 mph.

The federation reopened the world’s fastest track the next day on a shortened, slower course with padding on the poles and a new barrier wall in the closing straight.

It is not known if the report will explain why those safety measures were not in place before training began.

FIL initially judged that Kumaritashvili made tactical errors. Ranked No. 44 in the season-long World Cup series, he had taken 26 practice runs at Whistler with 16 starting from the top. He crashed four times.

Kumaritashvili’s family blamed the design of the $110 million) track that was intended to allow top speeds of 85 mph.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge later said the organization had a moral duty to ensure a safe games, but that “everyone is responsible” for Kumaritashvili’s death.

The IOC requested a report from the luge governing body to examine the accident.

“You will see when it comes out that what happened was a one-off,” Romstad told the AP by telephone from the United States. “The final moment of impact was something that was unforeseen. What we have tried to do is be as pragmatic as possible in trying to explain what happened.”

Romstad wrote the report with another U.S. official, FIL vice president Claire DelNegro. They will present it to senior colleagues for approval at scheduled meetings this weekend near Salzburg, Austria.

On Monday, Romstad, DelNegro and FIL president Josef Fendt will deliver their document to IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

No date has been fixed to publish the report, which will be forwarded to the coroner’s office in British Columbia as part of its investigation into the circumstances of Kumaritashvili’s death. The coroner’s office report is expected next month.

Romstad, a former luge racer, said he and DelNegro relied heavily on Canadian police reports and testimony from experienced luge officials to try to understand how the young Georgian was flung clear from the track.

“None of the people I have spoken to have seen that kind of behavior,” Romstad said. “The moment the athlete leaves the track, that is where the danger occurs. If Nodar had been kept in the track he would have been OK, with a few bumps and bruises.”

Track designer Udo Gurgel, a German expert who has created six Olympic sliding tracks, contributed to the report through “extensive correspondence.”

“Clearly the track was faster than it was supposed to be,” said Romstad, adding that it was still within FIL’s parameters.

Romstad said the past two months have been emotional for a “very tight-knit” sport.

Kumaritashvili’s father, David, was an experienced luger and he was coached by his uncle, Felix.

Fendt, a luge silver medalist for West Germany at the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics, attended a memorial ceremony in their home town of Bakuriani last month.

Asked if Kumaritashvili’s family would be satisfied with the report, Romstad said: “We hope they will be. Hopefully we will be able to, in a pragmatic way, say: ‘This is what we believe has happened.’

“The overall thing is that he should not have died. That is something we have struggled with because he is one of our family.”

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