E-Mails Reveal Concerns About Olympic Luge Track

Staff make adjustments to the luge track at the 2010 Winter Games in Whistler, British Columbia, on Feb. 12, 2010. i i

hide captionStaffers make adjustments to the luge track at the 2010 Winter Games in Whistler, British Columbia, on Feb. 12, 2010.

Michael Sohn/AP
Staff make adjustments to the luge track at the 2010 Winter Games in Whistler, British Columbia, on Feb. 12, 2010.

Staffers make adjustments to the luge track at the 2010 Winter Games in Whistler, British Columbia, on Feb. 12, 2010.

Michael Sohn/AP

Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the tragic start to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Hours before the opening ceremony at last year's Winter Games, an athlete in the sport of luge died during a training run.

After investigations and official reports, one luge official called the fatal crash an unforeseeable accident. But now, some are questioning that after a slew of Canadian media stories this week.

The website of Canada's The Globe And Mail posted a video titled "Take a Ride Down Whistler's Fast Ice Track" — the same week it posted a story titled "Deadly Olympic Luge Track: What The Warnings Were."

At the end of the bird's-eye-view ride in the video, you see the final turn where Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili died Feb. 12, 2010. You see the wall he flew over built up high and the metal pole he hit covered with padding.

These changes happened after the 21-year-old crashed. The Globe And Mail and other Canadian media have been zeroing in this week on what allegedly didn't happen before the Olympics.

Internal Documents

Internal documents and e-mails among Vancouver officials were revealed this week, indicating pre-Olympics concern about the Whistler sliding center track — the fastest in the world.

The media reports point to one e-mail in particular, written in March 2009 by John Furlong, the then head of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, or VANOC.

In the e-mail, Furlong writes about a letter, copied to VANOC, in which the head of the International Luge Federation expresses surprise that luge athletes reached blazing speeds on the Whistler track — and concern that those speeds not go higher at the next Olympics.

Paramedics and track staff add padding to the poles that slider Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed into ahead of the 2010 Winter Games. i i

hide captionParamedics and track staff add padding to the poles that slider Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed into ahead of the 2010 Winter Games.

Elise Amendola/AP
Paramedics and track staff add padding to the poles that slider Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed into ahead of the 2010 Winter Games.

Paramedics and track staff add padding to the poles that slider Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed into ahead of the 2010 Winter Games.

Elise Amendola/AP

Furlong wrote: "Embedded in this note (cryptic as it may be) is a warning that the track is in their view too fast and someone could get badly hurt. An athlete gets badly injured or worse, and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing. Our legal guys should review at least."

On his way to an interview Thursday about his new Olympics memoir, Patriot Hearts, Furlong explained the e-mail. "I'm simply reading and trying to understand what [the Luge Federation] president was saying. And asking my team, 'Is there something we need to be concerned with?' " Furlong said.

He insists the e-mail was just asking questions and not saying he himself was concerned about the track.

Furlong says interpreting the email as if VANOC knew the track was dangerous and did nothing is ludicrous.

"I'm sorry, but it's very hard to accept that. It's a bit like saying you know you're throwing the keys of your car to your children knowing that your brakes aren't working. I mean, no one would do that," Furlong said.

All this week, Furlong and other former VANOC officials have said they followed every order by the Luge Federation to ensure the track was safe and ready for the games.

The Luge Federation declined an interview request, saying, "It has given its views on a number of occasions and the facts have not changed."

Coroner's Reports

Last year's Luge Federation and British Columbia coroner's reports on the crash cited Kumaritashvili's driving errors during his fatal training run and his inexperience in handling the demands of the Whistler track.

Nodar Kumaritashvili practices for the Vancouver Olympics men's luge the day before he died on the track. i i

hide captionNodar Kumaritashvili practices for the Vancouver Olympics men's luge the day before he died on the track.

Elise Amendola/AP
Nodar Kumaritashvili practices for the Vancouver Olympics men's luge the day before he died on the track.

Nodar Kumaritashvili practices for the Vancouver Olympics men's luge the day before he died on the track.

Elise Amendola/AP

There was no direct blame placed on the track design. But the coroner's report acknowledged that opinions on whether the track was safe seemed to be deeply divided.

After hearing about the VANOC e-mails this week, Kumaritashvili's father, David, said he was angry and wanted further investigation into his son's death.

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