Whistler Sliding Centre's Safety Questioned

Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia trains at the Whistler Sliding Centre ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics on February 10, 2010. Inset image shows the Whistler Sliding Centre. (Getty Images | Inset from journalofcommerce.com)

Olympian Nodar Kumaritashvili's death while training for the luge at the Whistler Sliding Centre has many at the Winter Games questioning the safety of the track, which has a top speed of 93 mph. And it isn't the first time the track has been called unsafe.

Turn 16 comes after a straight-away and a momentum-building curve. (From journalofcommerce.com)
International Luge Federation (FIL) President Josef Fendt, of Germany, criticized the track's design after the international training week at the track in 2008 left several lugers injured, including German world champion Felix Loch. Fendt said that such a fast track made it clear that the FIL needed to start regulating new artificial luge tracks with speed limits.

“We have innumerable rules within our luge regulations – but so far we haven’t thought of setting a speed limit," he said after the training week.

At the time, many brushed the criticism aside as it was assumed by many that as athletes came to know the track better, fewer injuries would take place. But as recently as Thursday, athletes were complaining about the track's fast design. Australia's Hannah Campbell-Pegg nearly lost control of her luge during training Thursday night, and she assigned part of the blame to the track itself.

"I think they are pushing it a little too much," she said. "To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we're crash-test dummies? I mean, this is our lives."

With the games scheduled to start Saturday, it's doubtful changes would be made to the track so late in the game, especially since that could potentially make it less safe, but Kumaritashvili's death will certainly cast a pall over the opening ceremonies.

Kumaritashvili died in the Turn 16 horseshoe that follows a long straight-away where lugers can reach dangerously high speeds.
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