February 12, 2010

Luger Nodar "Kumaritashvili struck the inside wall of the track on the final turn."

"His body went airborne and cleared the ice-coated concrete wall along the left side of the sliding surface. His sled remained in the track, and it appeared his helmet visor skidded down the ice."

Death shadows the opening of the Olympics.

ADDED: Here is the MSNBC video report, which includes repeated viewings of the accident and left me feeling that the track is not properly designed. The announcers keep speaking of sorrow and "heartbreak," but I think the word "outrage" is more appropriate. 


rhhardin said...

sports announcer voice

Not what Kumaritashvili was looking for.

Ernesto Ariel Suárez said...

Winter sports are dangerous, much more than most "summer" ones. Even figure skaters are extremely prone to accidents and injuries, some of them terrifying. I know this well, my partner is a figure skater.

My condolences to Kumaritashvili's family and friends, and to the nation of Georgia.

Alex said...

Let's face it, part of the appeal of Winter Olympic sports is the ghoul-factor, we're all waiting for another ghastly injury/death.

Synova said...

Oh no.

That's really awful.

Maybe instead of trying to make "fast" tracks they should make tracks that take skill to go faster than the others. Or something.

ricpic said...

He who doesn't want to go splooge
Bids adieu the luge;
Inside the bobsled
His worst fear is a banged up head.

garage mahal said...

Who ever thought having unpadded steel pillars surround a luge track where they are now pushing 90mph is beyond me. Too young.

Big Mike said...

The picture makes it clear that there were no restraining nets the way they have alongside the ski runs. You have to wonder why not, when people are moving at 90 mph down an icy half-cylinder loaded with high speed twists and turns. Netting wouldn't have saved Kumaritashvili from injury -- he'd probably have fallen back onto the track and likely suffered a broken bone or two -- but he'd be alive.

Why is always the case that someone needs to die before obvious safety measures are taken? Nobody paid any attention to how NASCAR drivers belted themselves up until Dale Earnhardt died. I used to follow Formula 1, and in my estimation they were pretty cavalier about track safety until the sport found itself awarding its championship posthumously some forty years ago. Closer to home, back when I lived in Maryland, the state DOT assured us that traffic studies did not justify a traffic signal at an intersection close to where I lived, despite there being a middle school, an elementary school, and a regional park with playgrounds near that intersection. Then a child was hit by a car and died, and work began on installing a traffic signal within a couple weeks.

Why? Why can't anyone see the danger until a human dies? What's wrong with people? Government bureaucrats and bureaucrats in sport governing bodies seem to need human sacrifice as a precursor to doing their job.

Alex said...

Big Mike - that's the way it's always been. Humans are a reactive species.

avwh said...

They say that this course is the toughest course ever: extremely steep, fast with very wide corners at the top of the course that allow you to build up extreme speed.

Wonder what they are going to do -- maybe add some netting or padding to the pillars? Otherwise, it sounds like the entire course would need to be re-engineered to slow things down - I can't imagine they have the time to do that now.

Michael said...

The downhill events are definitely dangerous, but it is advisable for the planners to buffer any hard objects which could be in the trajectory of a human body gone out of control. I cannot fathom why a steel pole, unpadded, was where it was. I hate the idea of blaming the organizers but this was unnecessary and definitionally gross negligence. A tree, an embankment, another human being, the ground itself, but not a steel pole without padding near a turn in a high speed sporting event.

Big Mike said...

@Alex, that's not much comfort.

There's a little graphic on page 8E of today's USA Today that compares the course at Whistler with the previous two Olympic courses. Vertical drop of 499 ft for Whistler, 374 ft at Torino, 340 ft in Utah. Like most people, I only follow sliding sports every four years, but isn't this course substantially more dangerous than any other int he world?

Alex said...

Big Mike - you assume that the athletes don't welcome the thrill/challenge of the 499ft drop. These people are by definition certifiable insane, it's their lives.

Phil 314 said...

Oh yes and keeping with your word theme, we used to call the restaurant on the top of the Hancock building the "Top of the 'cock"

(and of course it was so close to the Playboy Building)

Chicago, a city of not just big shoulders

rhhardin said...

Protocol calls for polite crowd applause when a deceased football player is carried off the field.

I doubt there's a tradition in luge. Probably it was an awkward moment.

Wince said...

I have to agree with those questioning the design of the track.

Where he's careening to his death looks like the frozen food section of a supermarket still under construction, not a world-class luge track.

Larry J said...

I've often wondered how you learn how to do the luge without killing yourself. It looks like a lot of fun but it's no place for novices. The skeleton event is even crazier.

I don't see how padding would've helped. He was doing almost exactly 90 MPH when the accident happened. Properly designed nets might've saved him. As sad as this accident was, it could've been worse had there been spectators. He likely would've seriously injuried or killed several spectators had it been other than a training run.

Bruce Hayden said...

Big Mike - you assume that the athletes don't welcome the thrill/challenge of the 499ft drop. These people are by definition certifiable insane, it's their lives.

I would agree with that. Eight years ago, I met a woman one night at Park City, and it turned out that she was a bobsledder on some national team. She tried to get me to join her in her sled. No way. But the other guy with the four of us that night eventually did go with her. And that was the start of a relationship. I wasn't surprised though - he was an ER doc, and they are also adrenaline junkies.

A bunch of MDs worked as volunteers in the 2002 SLC Olympics, and one of my male bonding ski group guys was the doc for (I think first) half of the luge/bobsled races. He stayed with me in SLC through the half of the Olympics where he was working. And from his experiences, they are nutzo there on the bobsled, and esp. the luge, worse than skiing (the docs working that were much better politically connected).

The worse thing he had to do was shut down the run until he could check out a woman who had crashed the previous run. She had eluded him, and went back up to run again. Not until he got her checked out. Sorry. She turned out to be fine, and got to go once he gave her a clean bill of health.

I am betting that he is glad he didn't get that gig again for this Olympics.

Big Mike said...

Hey! I didn't say they don't welcome the challenge. They're Olympic-class athletes by definition. They got where they're at by pushing the limits as hard as they can.

But the sport governing body and the Vancouver organizing committee should have realized how dangerous the run was, even for (make that expecially for) Olympic class athletes and been more concerned about safety.

I'm not blaming the athletes, guys. Not at all. It's always the bureaucrats. Always.

Big Mike said...

I can spell "especially," really I can. I kan spel verry gud, even without my troosty spel-chekur.

Anonymous said...

My first thought on hearing about the crash: "What the hell is a steel pole doing next to a luge track?"

It is a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided with some basic safety precautions.

traditionalguy said...

Did Toyota design the track?

Joe said...

As an aside, the coverage on NBC sucks so far. SHOW THE FUCKING SPORTS ASSHOLES!

William said...

I understand that all sorts of practical safety measures were initiated in auto racing. Has anything useful ever come from luge? The sport seems dangerous, expensive, and less fun to watch than hurling.

Night2night said...

Anybody who gets into a easily foreseeable accident on this couse is in physical jeopardy of the highest order (not to mention danger to the spectators). The designers of this "world class" track have simply ignored the most elementary aspects of risk managment. This event should be canceled if the venue cannot be replaced. Continuing to operate this track is ethically depraved at best, and criminally negligent at worst.

Big Mike said...

Drudge has a link to video of the accident. Don't watch with the sound on because something hard -- his helmet I'm guessing -- hits the steel pole with a lot of force and it makes a terrible noise.

I'm nowhere near an expert in the sliding sports, but up to that point it just didn't look as though he made any big mistake. When death is the consequence for a small mistake then something's pretty wrong.

There's just no excuse for failing to have the sides of the track rise up higher plus netting that's mounted above the edge of the track so as to catch a person and drop him or her back onto the track.

JAL said...

Nobody paid any attention to how NASCAR drivers belted themselves up until Dale Earnhardt died.

Not true. Earnhardt died because he refused to use the safer head/ neck restraint that was available and being used by other drivers (but not mandated.)

As for the luge / bobsled track, the article in the NY Times I looked at today said that the turn is called "50/50" by some of the lugers (is that the right word?) because you "have a 50/50 chance of negotiating a sled through it successfully."

Joe said...

Were luge safe, it would lose much of its appeal. No matter how "safe" you made the track, with the speeds involved any trip down runs the risk of death. Every competitor has the freedom to walk away.

Also note that Earnhardt refused to wear a full face helmet. He also wore his seat belts looser than most drivers.

If an earlier poster was referring to the accident in Formula 1 that killed Senna, that was in the third race and was a total fluke. Several drivers believe it was due to driver error. There were serious problems with fuel tanks and safety crews in Formula 1, but this wasn't one of them. (And drivers always had the option to walk away. Frankly, it's gotten ridiculously safe to the point where some drivers whine about actually having to race!)

LoafingOaf said...

I watched the full video Drudge linked, too. The one showing the full run. Looked like he was having a good run, but I guess in luge any little body movements matter a lot. Anyway, as sad as it is, he did die doing what he loved, and it doesn't look like he suffered much. Not the worst way to go.

Not sure why commenters think padding on the poles would've made any difference. No poles at all seems like a better idea.

I'll defer to the athletes' opinions as to whether the track is too dangerous for luging. Some of you are posting that the whole event should be called off, as if you don't think there should be any dangerous sports at all. If the track is too fast for lugers, they have already said they can start from a lower starting spot.

Apprently the big controversy is that Canada didn't allow non-Canadian sliders to familiarize themselves with the track before this week. PErhaps they should've allowed the best lugers to test out the track weeks ago, with temporary extra safety features around the track, to work out how dangerous the speeds were for lugers. Then they'd have known whether or not to lower the starting spot and reduce speeds for lugers weeks ago.

But, Canada wanted to keep an edge and boost their medal count. See, Canada can be nationalistic too.

el polacko said...

it was disgusting of nbc to open the evening's coverage with repeated replaying, in slow-motion no less, of the poor young man's death while disengenuously bemoaning his fate. shame on them.

Dan from Madison said...

el polacko - I agree completely. I was very surprised to see that video on NBC once, much less over and over and over.

Of course, padding would have done nothing to save this guy - he was flying through the air going 90mph. So that should be the end of that discussion.

As for the poles being where they are, I think a more nuanced approach would be to examine other luge/bobsled tracks worldwide and see how they are constructed. Maybe that isn't the best idea though - I am sure that there have been luge deaths before this one.

I am sure that that the deceased's family is lawyering up as we speak for the inevitable cascade of lawsuits on the deepest pockets in the chain.

But I don't know - these events are, by definition, dangerous. I would imagine each and every compititor must sign their lives away before getting anywhere near the track or ski hills. If you do that and get injured or die, isn't that just the way it goes?

Michael said...

Downhill events are inherently dangerous but the organizers do not typically install obstacles that make it more so. To write this off as a condition of the sport is silly, it would be like deciding it was OK to have steel posts as gates in the downhill rather than flexible poles. The designers of this track put a roof on it at the point of this crash, for someone's convenience, and the poles were needed to hold up the roof.

Kylos said...

Those structural pillars were mere feet from the track right at the exit from the last corner. I understand that there is inherent danger in downhill events, but a little fore thought would have necessitated a padded wall or net shielding the pillars long enough to straighten out an out of control luge. Sure, they might still be banged up, but then they won't be colliding with a steel column at 90 mph.

Big Mike said...

@Joe, you are wrong in every single paragraph of your comment.

A trifecta!

I find your first paragraph utterly appalling, and I'm hearing echoes of people who insisted that the danger was part of the thrill of NASCAR, and F1 and other open-wheel racing before it. Yet they made NASCAR so safe that drivers can deliberately bump each other, and it still draws massive crowds. One British F1 driver responded to assertions that danger rightly ought to be part of the thrill by saying something along the lines of "anyone who says that racing is too safe is then saying that I ought rightly to be dead, and I do take that a bit personally."

Luge will always be difficult, and I have no problems with a track where the result of a minor mistake means losing your sled. I still argue that it shouldn't mean losing your life.

Okay, your second paragraph isn't totally wrong, merely a non sequitor. As you and JAL both point out, Earnhardt could have worn safer equipment, but was allowed by NASCAR to chose not to. Earnhardt may not have cared about the consequences, he being dead and all, but the sport took a predictable black eye. Consequently I assert that the people who made the rules should have mandated more safety.

There was a sort of analogy over in drag racing. "Slingshot" racers positioned the driver at the very rear of the machine, with legs arched over the axle and the differential housing right in front of the driver's gonads. Champion "Big Daddy" Jim Garlits was driving a slingshot when the differential exploded. The difference was that he lived -- in what doctors like to euphemistically call "discomfort" -- to recover slowly in the hospital. His next "Swamp Rat" had the driver in front of the engine, with a safety barrier between him and it, and used a wing in the back to generate downforce on the rear tires instead of the driver's weight.

As for your last paragraph, there's a hint when I said "forty years ago" -- I was referring to Jochen Rindt, who did, in fact, win the F1 championship posthumously in, I think, 1970. His Lotus 72 went out of control because the downforce it generated was too much for the suspension and the nose, set low to the track, wedged itself under safety barriers designed for the racing cars of the 1950's.

As for Senna, who died on the race track in '94 (six years ago, vice forty), probably the best analysis of what went wrong can be found here. There was no driver error (outside of going faster than the car's suspension could compensate for).

Big Mike said...

Make that 16 years ago, not 6. Like most mathematicians, I can't do arithmetic.

Jim said...

Mark Donohue once said, "There's always a way a car can get you" and that surely applies to a high-risk sport like the Luge. Having said that, those posts have no business that close to the course. Kumaritashvli's death was part of the track's design, and the Olympic authorities are complicit in his demise.

45 years or so ago, many venues were lined with trees that were easily within hitting distance (The Kink at Road America was, as Mario put it, a "character builder"), and if you struck a tree or pole, you were done. But many drivers are alive today because of safety improvements, and they have (Sir) Jackie Stewart to thank for starting the push for their adoption.

I was living in London ~1970/71 and was outraged by the appalling vilification dumped on Stewart by old fart/Colonel Blimp motor sport asshat journalists who, like commenter 'Joe' and others here, think that "Were (it) safe, (it) would lose much of its appeal." Tell ya' what: ask an SCCA corner worker about how appealing it is to be first to a car with a dead driver in it.

Bryan C said...

If this particular track was poorly designed then, yeah, somebody should get into big trouble. But "dangerous" is not the same as "poorly designed" If you want to be safe you master ping-pong, not the luge. The ultimate outcome of making sports "safe" is what's happened to NASCAR, where they've Harrison-Bergeron-ized the cars with restrictor plates so nobody can go too fast. It may still attract big crowds, but it's not the same sport it once was.

Call it ghoulish if you like, but danger and excitement are very closely linked in our brains. Removing consensual risk most certainly does diminish the appeal for both the participant and for the spectators.

http://www.ehow.com/members/stevemar2-articles.html said...

Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death is a tragedy! Luge looks like such a neat sport, but also very dangerous at the same time. His death will cast a pall over these Olympic Games. RIP

JAL said...

I missed the details, but the night before the luge copetition they redid the luge track. Shortened the run for the men by 200 yeards and re-shaped some things, but also put in a 40 metre barrier along that turn.

Watched it last night. 90 mph is so fast you could hardly see the guys go by if you were watching a 50' section of track.

Methadras said...

So is the new Agony of Defeat guy?