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Category: Luge

Jacques Rogge (part 1): Shadow of luger's death will never go away

Rogge I joined a small group of international journalists whose primary beat is the Olympics for a Thursday breakfast with International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge.  In an hour-long question-and-answer session, he touched on myriad topics, some serious, some lighthearted.

A sampling follows:

Before taking questions, Rogge gave a preliminary assessment of the 2010 Games.

"It's premature to make a final judgment on the Games before they end Sunday.  But we can make a preliminary judgment.

"Of course, the death of [Nodar] Kumaritashvili will cast a shadow over the Games.  That goes without saying, and this is something we are not going to forget."

[Note: the Georgian luger died in a training accident the morning of the opening ceremony.]

"But we owe it to the organizers and the athletes to make a separate judgment on how they performed.  Having spoken to many athletes in the Olympic villages, they are very happy with the village, with the general organization, with the competition and the warm supportive crowds that are not chauvinistic for all the teams.

"Athletes have also heard about the very good ratings on television and for them it's important because they want to have a big audience in their home country.  If you compare to Salt Lake City, which is a fair comparison because it is more or less the same time zone, we have major progress in all the markets, this is very heartening.  Not only in free-to-air, which is traditional television, still very strong, but a huge, huge increase in digital, Internet, video on demand and mobile.'"

On the legacy Vancouver will leave for the Olympic movement:

"The communion of the public with the Games.  From an organizational standpoint, there has not been a sea change.  The involvement of the public definitely is.

"Everyone is very excited by the fantastic atmosphere here -- people partying, having fun.  This is something really unique, that I have seen only in Sydney to a certain extent in 2000, but of course you cannot compare Summer Games with the Winter Games."

And now, some questions and answers:

In your final assessment at the closing ceremony, how will you categorize these Games?

"In general, it will be a positive one."

-- Philip Hersh in Vancouver, Canada

Photo: IOC President Jacques Rogge speaks to reporters on Saturday. Credit: Marcio Sanchez / Asssociated Press

Jacques Rogge: Death of luger will remain a legacy of Vancouver Games [updated]

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said Thursday the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili will be one of the legacies of the Vancouver Games, similar to how the killing of Israeli athletes will forever be associated with the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

Rogge said the death will forever cast a shadow over the Vancouver Games and urged organizers of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, to make sure the sliding track is safe.

In addition, Rogge said the IOC accepts "moral responsibility" but not legal responsibility for Kumaritashvili's death.

[UPDATED, 12:52 p.m.: For more on Rogge's comments, go here.]

What do you think? Use the comment board to elaborate on your opinion.

-- Austin Knoblauch

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Day by day: U.S. Olympic medal haul so far

The U.S. has won 26 medals through Tuesday, Feb. 23, with seven gold, nine silver and 10 bronze.

Georgian Olympic Committee blames luge track for fatal accident


The Georgian Olympic Committee on Thursday blamed the track, not the athlete for the accident that killed 21-year-old Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili hours before the opening of the Winter Olympics.

"I exclude the possibility that Nodar was not experienced enough," committee chief Giorgi Natsvlishlili said in televised comments. "From my point of view the track was at fault."

Kumaritashvili died in a training accident when he lost control of his luge on the final turn of the track at the Whistler Sliding Center, the world's fastest, and hit a steel support beam at 90 mph.

-- Houston Mitchell in Vancouver

Photo: Nodar Kumaritashvili. Credit: AP.

Linger brothers win gold medal in doubles luge


Austrian brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger won the gold medal in doubles luge.

 The Lingers completed their two runs in 1 minute, 22.705 seconds.

Andris and Juris Sics of Latvia finished in 1:22.969 and won silver, and Germany's Patric Leitner took bronze with a time of 1:23.404.

Christian Niccum and Dan Joye of the United States were sixth. Americans Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin finished 13th.

-- Houston Mitchell in Vancouver, Canada

Andreas Linger, left, and Wolfgang Linger of Austria. Credit: Arne Dedert, EPA. 

Father of Georgian luger says son told him 'I will either win or die'

The father of the Georgian luger killed at the Vancouver Olympics said Monday that his son worried the track was too dangerous, but insisted on competing because he had come to the Games to try to win.

Olyblog “He told me: I will either win or die,” David Kumaritashvili told the Associated Press. “But that was youthful bravado; he couldn't be seriously talking about death.”

The father, in an interview at his home in the snow-covered slopes of Georgia's top ski resort, said he had spoken to his son, Nodar, shortly before the fatal training run Friday.

“He told me: Dad, I really fear that curve,” the elder Kumaritashvili said. “I'm a former athlete myself, and I told him: 'You just take a slower start.' But he responded: 'Dad, what kind of thing you are teaching me? I have come to the Olympics to try to win.'"

Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, died when he lost control of his sled, flew off the course and slammed into a steel pole at nearly 90 mph. After the crash, the poles were wrapped in padding and the course was altered to make it slower.

The International Olympic Committee and luge officials have taken criticism for blaming the accident on Kumaritashvili's failure to make tactical corrections during his run, and for saying they were changing the course not to make it safer but to soothe the emotions of the athletes.

Concerns about the course, the world's fastest, had been raised for months. There were worries that the $100-million-plus venue was too technically demanding, and that only Canada's sliders would have enough time to adapt to it in practice.

“They tested that track on my son,” the elder Kumaritashvili, 46, said bitterly.

Continue reading »

Felix Loch of Germany wins men's singles luge gold medal

In an event marred by the death Friday of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, Felix Loch of Germany  edged teammate David Moeller to win the men's singles luge.

Armin Zoeggeler of Italy won the bronze.

The highest U.S. finisher was Tony Benshoof, who finished in eighth place. 

-- Houston Mitchell in Vancouver, Canada

Ruben Gonzalez, the best worst luger in the world


His name is Ruben Gonzalez.

His country: Argentina

His resume: Four-time Olympic luger

His website: thelugeman.com

His chances: Nada. Zippo. Zero. Zilch.

Don't take my word for it or don't think I'm being cruel.

Here's Gonzalez, 47, in his own words after his first of four runs. "Feels like I've got a pretty good lock on last place. Someone would really have to try hard to take that away from me."

Of the 38 athletes competing here at the Whistler Sliding Centre, Gonzalez is back of the pack in a sport where less than a dozen sliders have a chance at the podium in any year.

This year it's the Olympics, his last. You see, Gonzalez knew Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian slider who died Friday in a training accident. He actually learned from him less than two years ago at the track in Latvia.

"It was just the two of us training," Gonzalez recalled. "It's a tough track there. Before I even asked for help, Nodar came to me on his own and helped me through."

That's often the way it is for the lower-tier sliders who lack the financial backing of big federations and sponsors.
Before Friday, Gonzalez hadn't even thought of retiring after the Winter Games.

"A few weeks ago, I wouldn't have said that. I wanted to keep going," he said. But the fatal accident gave Gonzalez the perspective that "there are other things to do in life."

Continue reading »

President of Georgia: 'No sports mistake is supposed to lead to a death'

The president of the Republic of Georgia, speaking to reporters a day after one of his nation’s athletes died in a luge training run, raised concerns about the design of what is the world’s fastest track at the Whistler Sliding Center.

Olyblog “There were questions being asked about this place,” President Mikheil Saakashvili said. “There were suggestions that the wall should have been higher there.”

Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed when he lost control of his sled at about 80 mph, flipped over the lip of the track and slammed into an unpadded roof support post. Saakashvili reacted to suggestions that the 21-year-old athlete lacked the necessary experience to handle the course.

“They said that what happened yesterday was because of human error,” the president said. “Well, with all due respect … one thing I know for sure, that no sports mistake is supposed to lead to a death.”

Even some veteran lugers had previously commented on the difficulty of the Whistler track. Officials are now extending the wall along the lip, Saakashvili said.

“But I think the best news would be if, in the future, they listen more to the grievances of sportsmen,” he said. “And we don’t have to do things in the aftermath.”

Also speaking on Saturday, Georgian figure skater Omar Japaridze offered a few more details about his largely unknown teammate.

“I met him here,” Japaridze said. “He was very excited.”

Kumaritashvili’s father had been a luger and his uncle, who was his trainer, had previously worked with the French national team. Shortly before his fatal run, he called home to his parents to tell them that they “would be proud of him,” Saakashvili said.

The Georgian government hopes to construct a sliding track – the country currently has none – and name it after Kumaritashvili, who was forced to train at facilities throughout Europe.

The Georgians said they were grateful for the support they had received from the Canadian people.

“Of course we all are in a big shock from what happened " Friday, Japaridze said. “Despite this tragic event our team will carry on with the dream of Nodar and compete in his honor.”

-- David Wharton in Vancouver, Canada

Photo: President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili. Credit: Kim Ludwick, EPA.

Death still on the minds of luge competitors

Luge competitors struggled with two adjustments Saturday as they prepared for competition: the loss of a fellow slider in a terrifying training accident and a lower starting spot that federation officials hoped would provide some psychological comfort.

Olyblog “It’s fresh in our hearts,” said India’s Shiva Keshavan after a morning training run from the women’s start, about 100 feet down the track. “”We can’t compete with the same joy.”

Grim-faced U.S. sliders did not stop to take questions. 

Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, of the Republic of Georgia died within sight of the finish line Friday, when he lost control of his sled and was catapulted out of the track and into a unpadded roof support beam.

Gordy Sheer, a spokesman for USA Luge, said athletes had been offered counseling, but he did not know if any of them had accepted it.

“I have no idea what our athletes are going through now. No one has ever been though this before,” said Sheer, a 1998 Olympic silver medalist. “I’ve only seen them in the [track] outrun and the only talk has centered around the runs.”

Sheer said he had never seen a crash as violent as Kumaritashvili’s.

“I’ve been coming to tracks for years and years and for the first time this morning, I felt sick walking up,” he said.

Sheer said USA Luge would withhold comment until all investigations are completed.

In less than 24 hours, the mile-long track that was being hyped as the fastest in the world is being portrayed as a death trap capable of rattling the best sliders and consuming the rest.
International luge officials and executives with the Vancouver organizing committee have adopted a defensive posture since the accident.

At a news conference Saturday morning, Josef Fendt, the president of the international luge federation, insisted the track was safe.

“We never said that it was too fast,” he said through an interpreter. “We do not push our athletes to the limits.”

Tim Gayda, the Vancouver organizing committee’s vice president of sport, said that since the opening of the track to training and competition two years ago, luge athletes had completed about 5,000 runs.

“We believe...we did everything in our power to make the track as safe as you can,” he said. “We’re quite confident where we are.”

Svein Romstad, federation secretary, said after the accident, officials conferred with police investigators, watched videotape of the accident and walked the track to retrace Kumaritashvili's final seconds.

Traveling in excess of 80 mph, the slider was late steering his sled out of Curve 15, which made him late entering the final curve, nicknamed Thunderbird.

The G forces “literally collapsed his body” as Kumaritashvili struggled to correct his mistake which “put him at the mercy of the path of the sled,” Romstad said.

He said luge officials considered many options late Friday night, including cancellation of the event, but concluded that racing could be carried out safely with additional precautions.

Romstad insisted the change in the start location was not for safety but “to deal with the emotional components facing athletes.”

He said he was not aware of any athletes who were having second thoughts about competing.

But some were unhappy that the start had changed.
“Until yesterday, I was still in the medals ranks. Today it’s not a race,” complained Manuel Pfister of Austria. "Men’s sliding is faster. Now from the women’s [start] it’s too slow.”

Sheer said athletes have no choice but to adapt.

“Everybody’s on the same level,” he said. “The athletes who adapt quickly will do well.”

The first of two runs begins at 5 p.m. PST. Men's competition will conclude with two runs tomorrow.

-- Candus Thomson

Photo: Shiva Keshava. Credit: AP. 


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