Winter Olympics - Review: Future looks bleak for luge

Reuters - Thu, 18 Feb 23:54:00 2010

After the final luge medals were handed out at the Vancouver Olympics the talk was not of great deeds on the Whistler track but of how the sport can emerge from the shadow of death.

Luge Feature 2010 Vancouver - 0

Nearly a week since 21-year-old Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died after slamming into a steel pillar at 90mph when he lost control of his sled on the 16th corner the questions over why it happened refuse to go away.

The International Luge Federation have said the Whistler track, built at a cost of C$104.9 million to be the fastest in the world, is safe.

All the same it has promised a review of the terrible events which have overshadowed the sport that should have been enjoying its moment in the world spotlight.

"With the luge season now concluded with the Olympic Games, the FIL will gather all needed information to be able to properly review the events and determine how best to move forward," the FIL said in a statement on Thursday.

"The FIL anticipates it will be able to share its conclusions with the public by the end of March."

The statement followed comments earlier in the day by Werner Hoeger, an athlete who slid in the Turin and Salt Lake Games for Venezuela, who told the New York Times that he warned the FIL last year that the Whistler track was unsafe after he lost consciousness following a crash.

Kumaritashvili's fatal crash means the FIL will have much to discuss in the coming weeks but it could mark a crossroads for a a sport that appears to have reached its speed limit.

"I hope people can educate themselves about the realities of the sport," Canada's Regan Lauscher said. "It's very tragic that happened. The Luge Federation needs to evaluate what happened and what needs to be done to change for the better. Maybe some good can come out of this."

Whistler proved much faster than the designers had anticipated and even before the Games began some of the sport's most seasoned lugers were expressing their fears about Whistler and its 16 stomach-churning corners.

"We are very close to the ceiling of how fast you can go," American veteran Tony Benshoof said the day before Kumaritashvili met his death when Austria's Manuel Pfister hit 154kmh - the fastest ever recorded speed for a luger.

"We are going faster and faster and it's going to get to a point where it's just a little too much."

Australia's Hannah Campbell-Pegg went further, saying on the eve of the fatality that she felt like a "crash test dummy".

Following the crash the FIL decided to lower the start positions for all the events despite saying there were no deficiencies in the track and they have said the Sochi track at the 2014 Games will be slower.

"We decided to err on the side of caution and move the starts down, mostly for emotional reasons," FIL secretary general Svein Romstad said. "We recognise Whistler is fast and that's not the direction we want to go."

Gold medals almost seemed an irrelevance after Kumaritashvili's death although the show did go on in a subdued atmosphere.

Germany's Felix Loch announced himself as the new king of sliders with gold in the men's singles and at just 20 looks capable of following in the sled tracks of Georg Hackl.

Tatjana Huefner's gold in the women's singles underlined Germany's domination of the sport but Austrian brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger did at least show that that the Germans are beatable by landing the doubles gold.

Despite the podium smiles, however, luge came out of the Games with its reputation battered and bruised.

Follow the Winter Olympics 24/7 on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport HD (Sky 412) British Eurosport channels are streamed online via the Eurosport Player.

Reuters

Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account