Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics – Let the finger pointing begin!

I have consistently been critical of VANOC’s handling of the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili on the opening day of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. In February 2010 I wrote in The Globe and Mail, ‘Shame on VANOC for blaming Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili for his tragic death while conveniently absolving themselves of responsibility.’ In October 2010 I wrote in the National Post that the BC Coroner’s Report was ‘off-base in pointing the finger of blame at Nodar Kumaritashvili, stating that his relative lack of experience set the backdrop for the incident. This track was intentionally engineered for world-record-breaking speed and high G-forces. A high-speed corner was named “50-50” due to the odds of making it without crashing. World-class lugers were crashing in their limited training runs. What happened was not just due to the inherent risks of the luge or to Mr. Kumaritashvili’s inexperience. VANOC’s shortening of the race course and building up of the walls is implicit recognition that the course was too fast and that its speed played a greater role than Mr. Kumaritashvili’s inexperience in his death.’

The Globe and Mail reported (read article here) two days ago that Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) CEO John Furlong ‘expressed concern that an athlete could get ‘badly injured or worse’ on the high-speed track and organizers might be accused of doing nothing to prevent it. Mr. Furlong’s unease, outlined in a startling, March 2009 e-mail … came after he received a copy of a letter to the luge track’s designer from the worried president of the International Luge Federation (FIL), Josef Fendt.’

FIL Secretary General Secretary Svein Romstad stated that, ‘Our goal is always to have tracks around 135 kmh, and that was what the designer projected. Instead, we suddenly got to 154 kmh. That was never our intention.’

In a letter written to IBG Designs, FIL President Fendt wrote, ‘Most of the athletes were able to cope with these extremely high speeds. Nevertheless, overstepping this limit would be an absolute unreasonable demand for the athletes …. This causes me great worry.’

Having received a copy of Mr. Fendt’s letter, Mr. Furlong e-mailed members of his senior management team writing, ‘An athlete gets badly injured or worse and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing. That said I’m not sure where the exit sign or way out is on this. Our legal guys should review at least.’

Tim Gayda, VANOC Vice-President of Sport, responded, ‘I don’t believe there is anything to do.’ This was echoed by VANOC Executive Vice-President of Sport, Paralympic Games and Venue Management Cathy Priestner-Allinger who wrote, ‘FYI, no action required at this time.’

I wonder if VANOC’s foreknowledge of the track’s dangerously high speeds was disclosed to Nodar’s family when they accepted $150,000 from a private insurance ostensibly to compensate a grieving father and mother for the loss of their son due to a tragic accident. On the world stage of the Olympics, VANOC blamed Nodar Kumaritashvili for his death while conveniently absolving themselves of responsibility. It is assumed that VANOC carried on with the line that Nodar’s inexperience caused his death. If Mr. Furlong didn’t tell them about their concern over ‘extremely high speeds’ which presented an ‘unreasonable demand’ on the athletes when the main cause was in fact a track that was too fast that they knew about in advance and did nothing about, then Mr. Furlong has some explaining to do.

Lastly, parroting VANOC’s position at the time, the BC Coroner’s Report pointed the finger of blame at Nodar Kumaritashvili stating that his relative lack of experience set the backdrop for his death. The report conveniently ignored correspondence it had from VANOC and International Luge Federation executives who were worried that the unintended extreme speeds were unreasonable and that athletes could get injured or killed as a result. Cover-up, incompetence, or honest mistake? Let the finger pointing begin!

Read the e-mails here – VANOC Luge e-mail 1 + VANOC Luge e-mail 2

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  1. Tweets that mention Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics – Let the finger pointing begin! « The Sports Law Canary -- Topsy.com - February 10, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rio Olympics, Cody Kurk. Cody Kurk said: Nodar Kumaritashvili's death at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics …: I have consistently been critical of VAN… http://bit.ly/fM4JOa […]

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