Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died last Friday during a training run for the Vancouver Olympics. The 21-year-old athlete lost control of his sled and was vaulted over a wall into a steel pole. Traveling at speeds at or near 90 mph, the young man had little chance of survival. Olympic and luge officials, along with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, completed their investigations and the track was re-opened on Saturday.
An extension to the wall was built and padding was placed around the exposed steel pole that fatally injured Kumraitashvili. I don’t know all there is to know about luge, but I do know that athlete safety should come first on any sports event checklist. Various stories have surfaced in the last few days reporting the concerns of the luge athletes before Kumaritashvili’s death. The Canadian track is considered the fastest in the world and several athletes – including Kumaritashvili himself, expressed concern over the speed of the track.
This story has implications for youth sports as well. If your kids are fearful of equipment or a playing surface, listen to them. Investigate and find out that everything is fine. Better to spend time on an unfounded concern than ignoring a real one. We discussed athlete safety at the St. Louis Sportsmanship Summit earlier this month. While there are many sub-topics which fall under athlete safety, all agree it should never be overlooked.
There will undoubtedly be further investigation and perhaps litigation where this situation is concerned. I hope more attention is paid to luge athletes and their collective safety moving forward. Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili probably said it best when asked about the death of his fellow citizen. “I don’t claim to know all the technical details. But one thing I know for sure, that no sports mistake is supposed to lead to a death. No sports mistake is supposed to be fatal.” Until next time…
Be a Good Sport!