Olympic Luger Dies Despite Warnings

Jared Wade


April 1, 2011

On February 12, 2010, Nodar Kumaritashvili was practicing for what would be the biggest moment of his life. But during a trial run in Vancouver just hours before the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the 21-year-old luge star from the nation of Georgia suffered a fatal crash after his sled reached such a high speed that it jumped the track's wall, hitting a metal pole.

Despite the high risks involved in many Olympic sports, Kumaritashvili became only the sixth competitor to die while performing an athletic feat during the modern games. (Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israelis during the 1972 Munich Olympics.) In the aftermath, officials heightened the luge track wall and installed padding to the pole that ended Kumaritashvili's life.

Recent documents, however, have revealed that the games' organizers were aware of the risk prior to the tragedy -- yet failed to improve safety on the track, which is the world's fastest. The most troubling email came from Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) head John Furlong, who was sharing speed-related concerns raised by the International Luge Federation with the rest of the committee. "Embedded in this note (cryptic as it may be) is a warning that the track is in their view too fast and someone could get badly hurt," wrote Furlong. "An athlete gets badly injured or worse, and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing. Our legal guys should review at least."

Furlong is no luge expert and has since reiterated the fact that he was merely passing along a concern of those that were. But since there were no safety improvements made, it is easy to make the case that VANOC was warned and did nothing.

Jared Wade is a freelance writer and a former editor of Risk Management.