Luge officials aim to rebuild people’s trust in sport after fatal accident at Vancouver Games

By Graham Dunbar, AP
Sunday, April 11, 2010

Luge aims to rebuild its image after fatal crash

ST. LEONHARD, Austria — The president of the International Luge Federation president acknowledged that the sport’s image has been damaged by Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death at the Vancouver Olympics.

Josef Fendt told The Associated Press on Sunday that confidence must be rebuilt in the sport after the 21-year-old Georgian died hours before the start of the Winter Games two months ago.

“We have to work on that to fully restore our image and the trust in our sport,” Fendt said at the conclusion of a two-day session in which experts completed the governing body’s analysis of the Feb. 12 crash in Whistler.

“You can never lean back and think you have done enough for safety,” Fendt added. “We have a high standard, but it will always be a key subject to us.”

Panels began a review of luge’s rules and management, and a vote on proposed changes is scheduled for June. Also completed was an official investigation into the accident requested by the International Olympic Committee.

Svein Romstad, secretary general of the luge federation, and vice president Claire DelNegro spoke with international luge officials and studied Canadian police files before compiling their report.

Romstad told the AP the report will say no single factor can explain the circumstances leading to Kumaritashvili’s crash. He was thrown through the air and struck a trackside steel pole after losing control of his sled coming out of the final curve at nearly 90 mph.

“It’s an amalgamation of a lot of different things,” Romstad said last week. “What we have tried to do is be as pragmatic as possible in trying to explain what happened.”

Fendt will be joined by Romstad and DelNegro to deliver the document Monday at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Fendt said the IOC will share its findings with the Kumaritashvili family before likely publishing the report late this week.

Luge federation officials have repeatedly declined to reveal more details on the findings of the report before its publication.

Fendt said the tragedy united the luge community.

“The incident was not used for starting any fights,” he said. “But, on the contrary, brought us more together.”

Fendt, a former luge world champion who won a silver medal for West Germany at the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics, has led the German-based federation for 16 years.

He said the federation would find an “appropriate way” to honor the late luger. He also hopes to build on his relationship with the Kumaritashvili family, which has a long luge tradition in its hometown of Bakuriani. Fendt said he invited the luger’s father and an uncle to the federation’s office in Berchtesgarden.

“I have become personally close with Nodar’s family,” Fendt said. “I attended the funeral and stayed longer than just for the official part. … We will always stay in touch with the family. We owe this to them.”

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