Luge Competitor Dies Ahead Of Olympic Games
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
With the opening ceremony about to get underway, a horrific accident at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. A men's luger from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia crashed during a training run and later died.
NPR's Howard Berkes is in Vancouver. Howard, tell us what happened during this accident on the sliding track up at Whistler?
HOWARD BERKES: I've seen the video. It's absolutely horrific. The slider, a 21-year-old from Georgia was in the final turn of the track at the bottom of the luge track, so at the fastest speed. CTV, the Canadian television network says he was going about 89 miles an hour when his luge sled slid into the sidewall of the track and then he flipped up off of the sled, over the wall and out of the track and into a steel post. You can imagine a soft human body hitting a firm steel post at 89 miles an hour. He was immediately attended to by emergency crews who tried to revive him at the scene, performing CPR and mouth to mouth. He was rushed to a hospital and he was later pronounced dead.
BLOCK: And Howard, this is said to be the fastest luge and bobsled track in the world - the one at Whistler - does it make it, do you think, the most dangerous track in the world?
BERKES: Well, there have been a number of accidents on this track during training - four, five, I believe, luge sliders have had accidents on this track, none this serious, of course. And there have been some complaints about this track. In fact, an Australian, Hannah Campbell-Pegg, the other day said that she thinks that maybe they're pushing it a little too much with this track. She said to what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we're crash test dummies. I mean, she said, this is our lives. And there is some competition for making, you know, the fastest track in the world as these tracks are built for the Olympics.
What track builders try to do is build them in such a way that if there is an accident, if a slider goes off the sled, they stay in the track, so that there are walls that rise up and over the tracks, so they don't flip out the top and the walls on the side are supposed to be high enough so that they wouldn't flip out of the track. In this case, of course, that wasn't good enough. And one of the things, I'm sure that they'll be looking at is what can they do to maybe extend that wall now so that it is higher and so that it at least keeps a slider in the track if there's an accident.
BLOCK: Now, Howard, I've read the head of the delegation from Georgia has said the team is in deep shock. They don't know whether they're going to go to the opening ceremony or even take part in the Games themselves. What has the International Olympic Committee had to say about this?
BERKES: We've just received a statement from the International Olympic Committee and the Luge Federation and the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee. Mostly, at this point they're offering condolences. They do say that an investigation is underway into the circumstances of the accident. They've suspended training. They're trying to establish a cause. What we don't know is how this might affect the opening ceremony tonight. And we don't know whether the competition will proceed as scheduled tomorrow.
BLOCK: Okay, NPR's Howard Berkes in Vancouver. Howard, thank you very much.
BERKES: You're welcome, Melissa.
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