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Sliding Centre posts requests for track safety audit

Independent investigations to evaluate sled trajectories

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The Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies Society is making good on its pledge to observe the recommendations made by the B.C. Coroner's Service following the death of a young luger on the eve of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

On Dec. 1, the society posted a request for expressions of interests for an "Evaluation of Sled Trajectories within the Track of the Whistler Sliding Centre."

In October, the B.C. Coroner's Service ruled that the Feb. 12 death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was an accident, but made several recommendations to make the track safer in the future. One of those recommendations was to complete an independent safety audit of the track, which was considerably faster than the builders projected.

Among other things, "This investigation recognized that some of the most acknowledged experts in the area of sliding sports and track development were involved in the creation of the Whistler track. It would also appear that the best practices known at the time were followed. However, Mr. Kumaritashvili's death has proven the Whistler track capable of producing a serious incident, despite all of the safety measures that have been previously considered adequate. Further and greater scrutiny of safety issues at the track is advisable."

According to the terms of reference for the RFEI, companies that meet their initial qualifications will be invited to file a more detailed Request For Proposal. The objective is to review the track design, track speeds, the placement and configuration of crash barriers and other protective measures, determining the possibility of violent crashes inside the track, and the potential for sliders to leave the track and cause injuries to the athlete, track workers and spectators.

While various safety audits were completed before the track was opened and homologated by the professional sports organizations, it quickly became clear that the track was different in practice than it was in design.

Through the design phase it was thought that the maximum speed on the course would be 135.3 km/h for men's luge, when the actual top speed for the track currently stands at 154 km/h - far faster than the seven per cent tolerances built into the design. As well, there is a trend for sliding tracks to get faster over time as athletes learn the corners, sled technology improves, and track crews gain experience and perfect conditions.

Kumaritashvili was taking a training run on the eve of the Games when he lost control coming out of Corner 15, which sent him into the final long curve of the track at the wrong angle. Unable to correct his line, he came out of the final corner late, and banked into the opposite wall at a steep angle at a high rate of speed. He was bounced out of the track, and hit a steel pillar that was holding up a protective roof.

Among other things, the investigation by the FIL (International Luge Federation) determined that Kumaritashvili's sled failed - it should have broken when he hit the opposite wall, absorbing the force of the impact, but instead it flexed and snapped back, which helped propel the 21-year-old Olympian from the track.

It is believed that Kumaritashvili was killed on impact with the pillar as a result of head trauma, as attempts to revive him failed. While he did hit a railing and the ice wall, it's not believed that contact was responsible for his death.

Before the Games, the track was hailed as one of the fastest in the world, boasting the highest vertical drop from top to bottom - 150 metres, over 1,450 metres of track. The track also get more technical towards the bottom, when athletes are at their highest rate of speed and crashes were relatively common - although that is considered typical of any new track as sliders figure out their lines. Olympic four-man bobsleigh pilot Steve Holcomb gave Corners 13 and 14 - officially known as the Gold Rush Trail - the nickname "50-50," a name that has stuck among athletes.

While there were several crashes in training leading up to the FIBT World Cup held in Whistler Nov. 25-27, there was just one crash in four-man bobsleigh competition over the three days and none of the sliders involved were injured.

 

 

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