Olympic Politics At Heart of Whistler Luge Death
In a New York Times article, questions are being raised about the extent of culpability the Canadian officials have in the tragic death of Georgian luge competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili last Friday.
Another luge athlete, Venezuelan Werner Hoeger, suffered a third-grade concussion during training at the Whistler track in November. Hoeger, age 56 had hoped to compete as the oldest Olympian, but wasn't able to recover from his injury in time to compete in Vancouver.
In a back and forth exchange between Canadian officials, Hoeger and his lawyer have pressed to have changes made to make the track safer for all the competitors. Beyond the logistics of the track itself, and potential hazards from exposed barricades and poles running the length of the run at Whistler, is the recurrent issue of access to the track by non-Canadian teams.
Hoeger had asked for officials to provide more access for teams, especially those deemed "developing athletes." The article points out that it's standard for host countries to limit track access to powerhouse teams in an effort to provide home team advantage, but limiting less advantaged teams and athletes "set the Canadians apart."
In February of 2009, Hoeger had traveled to Whistler for training and had been using a system for training which had him starting at lower points on the track, and progressing higher so as to learn each segment. However, on his seventh start, track officials told him to start at the men's starting point. Hoeger refused, telling officials to do so "would be suicidal."
“I had heard enough horror stories,” Hoeger said. “Every athlete treats this track with the utmost respect. Nearly every athlete is scared to death of this track.”
This parallels Kumaritashivili's concerns prior to his fateful run. Nodar had spoken to his father prior to Friday's accident and voiced fear of the track and the dangers it presented. Prescient indeed.Continued on the next page