International luge federation blames death of Nodar Kumaritashvili on ‘driving errors’

By Chris Lehourites, AP
Monday, April 19, 2010

Luge federation blames death on ‘driving errors’

LONDON — The international luge federation blamed the death of Georgian racer Nodar Kumaritashvili on his driving mistakes, saying a “complex series of interrelated events” led to the fatal crash during a training run at the Vancouver Olympics.

“Nodar did commit driving errors starting in curve 15-16, which as an accumulation ended in the impact that resulted in him leaving the track and subsequently hitting a post,” the federation said in a report Monday, adding that “blunt force trauma to the base of his skull” caused the fatality.

The report also said that the type of accident that led to Kumaritashvili’s death had never before happened.

“This bowing of the sled has not been seen before and was therefore not predictable by technical and safety experts. No athlete would have control in dealing with this type of ‘catapult’ effect,” the report said.

The federation, known as FIL, said the wall on the left side of the finishing curve of the Whistler track “was deemed to have been correctly calculated and constructed to handle a crash in this area and to prevent the departure from the track by an athlete (in normal situations).”

During training on Feb. 12, only hours before the Olympic opening ceremony, Kumaritashvili was flung from the ice at the Whistler Sliding Center and struck a steel pole.

The report said Kumaritashivili’s run was routine until curve 15, when he “appears to have hung on to the curve too long.” Coming in late into the next turn, he “appears to have made the decision to try to hold the sled down rather than letting it go high up in the curve.”

The report said his sled hit the wall at an exceptional angle and served as a “catapult” to launch him into the air.

“After an in-depth analysis we concluded that there was no single reason, but a complex series of interrelated events which led to this tragedy,” FIL secretary general Svein Romstad said in a statement on the governing body’s website.

FIL cited Kumaritashvili’s tactical errors in preliminary findings within 24 hours of the fatality. The track reopened on a shorter, slower and safer course.

“There is no special reason stemming from this report to take any immediate measures, other than all the efforts we are constantly putting in the safety of our sport,” FIL president Josef Fendt said.

David Kumaritashvili, Nodar’s father, said pilot error was not an excuse for a luge death.

“Yes, any sportsman could make a mistake, but it shouldn’t result in a tragic and fatal accident,” he said. “He flew off the track. No matter what mistake he had committed, he should not have flown off it. Security measures must be provided.”

The elder Kumaritashvili was driving to Tbilisi to visit his wife in a hospital Monday and said he had no time to read the report thoroughly because of her illness.

The report said there was no unanimous decision when it came to lowering the start of the Olympic luge races, and that FIL anticipates going back to the original start for future events in Whistler. The $110 million track was built for the Olympics two years ago.

In Monday’s report, FIL defended Kumaritashvili’s credentials to compete at the Olympics.

“The documentation honors the sporting career of Nodar Kumaritashvili and demonstrates the qualification process of the Georgian luger,” FIL said. “He earned the right to participate.”

The IOC has a policy of “universality” that helps fund many athletes from smaller countries and encourages governing bodies to find entries for them.

The Georgian was ranked 44th out of 65 sliders in the season-long World Cup standings.

“The FIL believes its current qualification system is correct and stringent enough,” the report said. “It does not foresee making any recommendations to the IOC for changes.”

The document, written by Romstad and fellow American official Claire DelNegro, was requested by the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC said the report “clearly indicates that the accident was the consequence of a complex series of interrelated factors which combined led to the tragedy.”

The IOC and international federations are reviewing the safety and health aspects of all sports on the summer and winter Olympic program.

“The safety of the athletes at the Olympic Games is paramount,” the IOC said in a statement. “Together we will assess whether any specific measures need to be considered in the future.”

The report will be sent to the British Columbia coroner’s service. The Canadian authority is expected to publish its examination of how Kumaritashvili died next month, and could decide to hold a formal inquest hearing.

“Nodar lived his life for the love of his sport and the FIL has made it clear in this report that this accident’s circumstances were indeed unique,” Vancouver Olympic Committee chief executive John Furlong said. “We are grateful for their affirmation of the safety measures at the (Whistler Sliding Center) that they took to protect all athletes and for their determination to learn from this tragedy.”

FIL is raising funds for Kumaritashvili’s family, while the federation and IOC pledged to contribute to the construction of a luge track named after him in his hometown of Bakuriani.

“The Olympic family will never forget him,” the IOC said.

The fatal crash will also be addressed at the FIL Congress scheduled for June in Sochi, Russia, where the sliding track for the 2014 Winter Games will soon be built. Sochi organizers have been told to keep well below the world-record 96 mph speeds reached in Whistler.

Kumaritashvili was clocked at 89.4 mph a split-second before the fatal crash in Whistler, although racers and luge experts have said it was the combination of a technically demanding course — not just speed — that teetered on being out of control at the 2010 Olympic track.

Preliminary drafts of the 2010-11 international luge, skeleton and bobsled schedules, obtained by The Associated Press, show that the World Cup luge circuit will not compete in Whistler this coming season, although bobsled and skeleton open their seasons on the track.

“This has nothing to do with the tragic accident as it had already been decided before the Olympics,” Fendt said.

The FIL said it anticipates resuming “competition from the original start heights” for a World Cup luge race planned for the 2011-12 season in Whistler, and when the 2013 world championships are held on the track.

“However, due to the seriousness of this particular accident, several meetings of FIL technical experts are scheduled at the time of this report to discuss the viability of this desire,” the FIL report said.

AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds in Miami and Stephen Wilson in Washington, and Associated Press writer Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Eric Willemsen in Vienna contributed to this report.

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