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Coroner's office rules luger's death an accident

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The B.C. Coroner's Service this week released its report on the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed during a training run hours before the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics took place on Feb. 12.

The report, which is 16 pages long, concludes that there were a number of factors to blame for the accident, including high speeds, technical challenges and the combination of physical forces with physiological stresses which "converged at a critical moment, overwhelming the athlete and causing the irretrievable loss of control of the sled."

It also suggests that parties "failed to anticipate this incident or mitigate the outcome," and that inexperience may have played a role in the incident: The relative lack of experience Mr. Kumaritashvili had on this challenging track set a backdrop for the incident and was a significant disadvantage, as far as safety was concerned, for the athlete entering the high pressure environment of the Olympic Games."

Given these factors, the Chief Coroner for the Province of British Columbia, concluded that the death was accidental, while making recommendations to the luge federation and Whistler 2010 Sports Legacies Society.

It was a tragedy that overshadowed the start of the Games, leaving IOC and VANOC delegates visibly shaken during the opening ceremonies. In the days that followed the decision was made to lower the start for luge athletes, while a few of Kumaritashvili's teammates pulled out of the competition because of safety concerns. A track that was praised as being the fastest and most technical in the world was now being questioned by the global media.

Video footage of the accident shows Kumaritashvili losing control of his sled coming out of Corner 15, which sent him into the final long curve at the bottom of the track at the wrong angle. As a result he exited that curve too late and slid into the wall on the uphill run-out section at a high angle at high speed. He was bounced from the track and slammed into a metal post that was holding up a section of roof. Attempts to revive the 21 year old failed. Kumaritashvili was pronounced dead at 11:49 a.m., 59 minutes after the accident.

It is believed that Kumaritashvili was killed on impact as a result of trauma after striking the post. While he contacted with other surfaces of the track, it's not believed that they were responsible for any of the slider's injuries.

The coroner's investigation mirrored many of the findings presented by the International Luge Federation's (FIL) own investigation, which was completed in April. That includes the sequence of events leading up to the accident. The coroner's office also acknowledged the FIL's assessment of the sled itself, which they say should have broken when it hit the wall coming out of the final curve, but instead helped to catapult Kumaritashvili out of the track.

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