Outrageous: A death at the Olympics and a rush to judgment in blaming the victim of a deadly luge practice run

At the Olympic Winter Games, no one is supposed to die.

Certainly not a 21-year-old luge competitor from the Republic of Georgia, who was in Canada for his first Olympic games.

But the athlete, Nodar Kumaritashvili,  died last Friday on a practice run on the luge track as he and his sled flew down the luge run at almost 90 mph.  At the bottom of the track, his sled climbed an inside track wall and then went airborne, catapulting him into a vertical, immovable metal support structure, killing him instantly, according to a story in The New York Times.

Unbelievably, some Olympics officials at the Games quickly released a statement the next day saying the track was not to blame for the crash and that essentially, it was the victim’s own fault. “The technical officials of the [International Luge Foundation] were able to retrace the path of the athlete and concluded there was no indication that the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track,”  said the terse joint statement from the International Luge Federation and the Olympic Committee. Instead, “the athlete came late out of curve 15 and did not compensate properly to make correct entrance into curve 16. This resulted in a late entrance into curve 16 and although the athlete worked to correct the problem he eventually lost control of the sled resulting in the tragic accident,” the statement continued.  Operator error. How convenient.

A luge athlete flies down a luge course in this illustration from a U.S. postage stamp. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/raclro

It’s amazing how quickly they were able to conduct an exhaustive review of the accident, the track design, the track conditions, the hazards at the bottom of the track and all the other factors that might have played a part in Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death.  More attention is paid by a cop writing a parking ticket on Broad Street at rush hour.

Since when does the Olympic Committee and it’s affiliated agencies get to play investigators, witnesses, judge and jury all at the same time in a case like this?

The Olympic Committee was quick to judge, quick to blame and quick to push aside a catastrophic incident during an international sporting event.

So who is looking out for the late Nodar Kumaritashvili and his family? What recourse might they have in this tragic and certainly preventable death?

Instead of issuing an “official report” so quickly, why wasn’t the Olympic Committee listening to critics of the track who since 2008 have said it was “too fast,” according to another New York Times story.  Why didn’t the Olympic Committee and the luge officials working to avoid such an accident in the first place? Instead, only after the deadly crash did officials at the event authorized modifications to the luge track, including moving the start lower to slow the racers, installed thick protective pads onto the exposed beams at the bottom of the track and erecting a longer and higher retaining wall in the spot where Kumaritashvili flew off the track and slammed into the metal support beam. Not a deficiency in the track, huh? No, they fixed it only to have something to do. Absolutely ridiculous.

Now we will wait and see what, if anything, happens under international law in this crazy situation.

Looking at the design of the track without an engineer’s eyes, even we could see that there’s no way that those thick, metal, vertical posts should have been sitting so close to the track, as they were at the bottom of the course when the accident occurred.  The posts should have been completely covered by the retaining wall, which didn’t continue far enough to protect the racers on the course. That poor design allowed the athletes to all be vulnerable to injuries in such a crash. You don’t need an investigation to know that that was truly inexcusable.

The bobsled and skeleton athletes are now preparing to use the same track for their events in the next two weeks. The Olympic Committee has said they won’t do further modifications to the track for those events.

For Kumaritashvili’s family, now we all await justice and fairness.

Will it come?