Monday, February 15, 2010

Delaney: Maybe Georgian luger not prepared

The father of the Georgian luger who died Friday while training on the Whistler Olympic track told the The Wall Street Journal his son was afraid of one of the turns on the track known as the fastest in the world.

I wonder if this is telling about the ability of 21-year-old Nodar Kumarithashvili to slide on the Whistler track that is hosting Olympic racing this week. Lugers don't admit fear. A crash shakes up any luge athlete, but if they don't get back on the sled they are done.

The Georgian luge federation said through the FIL Saturday that Kumaritashvili, ranked 44th in the world, had a sufficient number of runs to race Whistler.

Then why was he afraid?

USA Luge CEO Ron Rossi expressed some doubt Saturday that Kumaritashvili was experienced enough to handle the track. Kumaritashvili had 26 runs at Whistler and competed in the minimum number of World Cup events (5) during the season.

"This track is unforgiving for the best athletes but for athletes not at that skill level, they can die on this track," said Rossi Saturday.

Remsen's Erin Hamlin said Saturday she was not afraid of the track, even after Kumaritashvili's accident.

"No fear," Hamlin said.

Rossi said after the Games he plans to propose a change in the rules governing track access. There is a culture in luge where Olympic host countries protect track access leading up to the Winter Olympics. This is not an issue for stronger luge nations such as Germany, Italy and the U.S. But athletes in a nation like Georgia might need more time and increasing the number of runs could help them.

"I think (access rules) were based on an old-style thinking that you have the hometown advantage," Rossi said. "The hometown team already has the advantage. What's the difference in allowing other nations 50 more runs?'

USA Luge and Canada had a disagreement over an equal number of runs at tracks in the two countries. Rossi said he wondered if Canada was overzealous in protecting its track, and a rule increasing the minimum number of runs could control that.

Rossi said "a slew of things" need to be looked by the International Luge Federation and organizing committees as a result of Kumaritashvili's death. One of these is speed calculations of a track. A track designer presents speed calculations and then they are approved. What happens if speeds are then higher than anticipated, Rossi asked.

In December, the Whistler track was projected to be 85 miles per hour. Now it's more than 90 and U.S. men's slider Tony Benshoof said last week he expected speeds to go over 100 during Olympic racing.

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