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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 20, 2010

Winter Olympics: IOC to act on luge death tragedy

Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia IOC president Jacques Rogge promised Saturday to do "everything in my power" to prevent a repeat of the crash that killed an Olympic luger and raised questions about the safety of speed events.

Rogge said in an interview with The Associated Press that the International Olympic Committee would work with the luge federation to "take all the steps that might be needed" to avoid another tragedy at future games.

Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old Georgian, was killed on Feb. 12 just hours before the opening ceremony when he slammed into a trackside pole after losing control of his sled during a training run at nearly 90 mph (145 kilometers per hour).

"There is one thing that is certain," Rogge said. "I will do everything in my power that this should not happen again in the future."

Within hours of Kumaritashvili's death, the international luge federation ruled the crash was caused by athlete error and not the lighting-fast track at Whistler. The luger's family and others have blamed his death on the course design, which has also caused concern among some bobsledders competing on the same track.

Rogge said the IOC is awaiting the results of investigations by the coroner, Canadian police and the luge federation, which is due by early April.

"We will look into that in collaboration with the international federation and we'll take all the steps that might be needed," Rogge said. "The tragedy is something we will not forget, that goes without saying."

Although the IOC runs the games, Rogge said the responsibility for "field of play" issues rests with the international sports federations. There have also been some bad crashes on the Alpine ski courses in Whistler.

"The federations are running the competitions and taking all the measures that are necessary," Rogge said.

He said the IOC and luge federation will examine the luge case on three levels the competition venue itself, the competition rules, and the qualification standard and quality of athletes. Questions have been raised about whether some athletes were experienced or prepared enough to race on the Whistler track.

"We have to find a balance between these three issues so that this does not happen in the future," Rogge said.

He dismissed suggestions that the IOC was pushing the limits of speed and risk too far, citing the committee's moves in recent years to make Olympic boxing and equestrian events safer.

"We are risk conscious, definitely," he said. "We work with international federations to reduce these risks."

At the halfway point of these Olympics, Rogge said the games were shaping up as a success despite a spate of organizational glitches in the first few days.

"There were errors in the beginning, but I must commend VANOC," he said, referring to the local organizing committee. "They have changed everything. They have corrected that very fast."

After weather problems at Whistler and Cypress Mountain, the situation eased with the arrival of sunny, clear conditions.

"I would say from Tuesday this week, the mood totally changed," Rogge said. "The victory of (U.S. athletes) Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, Shani Davis, of the Canadians, the fine weather, good competition, good crowds, fantastic atmosphere in the city that has changed a lot."

The early problems included a hydraulic malfunction during the cauldron lighting at the opening ceremony; weather postponements and delays at Alpine events in Whistler; cancellation of 28,000 standing-room tickets at Cypress Mountain due to warm weather and lack of snow; transportation delays, and timing device miscues at the biathlon.

The biggest public outcry was over placing the Olympic flame behind a chain-link fence, keeping it largely inaccessible to thousands of spectators hoping to take pictures and get close to the symbol of the games.

Organizers rectified the problem Wednesday by opening a rooftop viewing platform and moving the fence closer to the flame. On Saturday, organizers removed a section of the fence and replaced it with Plexiglas to allow a clearer view from ground level.