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Luge start moved as officials defend death track

13 lutego, 2010

International Luge Federation (FIL) president Josef Fendt on Saturday faced down claims that the Olympic track was too fast and could cause more deaths.

Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed on Friday after flying out of his luge and fatally slamming into a steel column.

His death, the first the FIL has known in 35 years of competition, has cast a pall over the start of the Winter Olympics.

Although Fendt admitted he did not expect to see maximum speeds of 154 km/h on the track, almost 20km/h more than what had been initially expected, he denied it was too dangerous.

"It\'s one of the fastest tracks but we have never said it is too fast," said the German, who played down claims that he had concerns in December about the speeds.

"I made some comments about speeds on tracks back then, but the speed discussion did not refer to this track, it referred to future tracks.

"There were some discussions that the track in Sochi (the venue for the 2014 Olympics) would be even faster, that\'s why we said we didn\'t want future tracks to get faster.

"We did not expect these kinds of speeds on this track, but we have seen that the track has been safe."

As a result of Friday\'s tragedy the men will now race lower down from the women\'s start, which should result in a 10-percent reduction in the maximum speed.

Svein Romstadt, the FIL Secretary General, said walls had been raised at the scene of the accident and further safety measures were being introduced.

Explaining the circumstances of the crash, an emotional Romstadt said: "The rendered opinion is that the run of Nodar appeared to be routine until curve 15. He came out late at the exit of the curve, which led to late entry to curve 16.

"He tried to correct it but he shot up (the side of the wall). He experienced a G-Force that literally collapsed his body and he subsequently lost control. Once he did so, he was at the mercy of the sled."

Romstadt echoed the thoughts of FIL president Fendt when he said there was no need to abandon the Olympic competition.

"Nodar was a good athlete, he had 26 runs on the Whislter track, a large number of runs for an athlete of his calibre," added the American.

"This is a fast sport and athletes do encounter problems. There was nothing out of the ordinary that signalled there needed to be a change. This track has been operational for two years, and experienced about 5000 runs.

"If you look at the crash ratio, for want of a better term, then it compares alongside that of other tracks."

"This is the first fatality since December 10, 1975 when an Italian luger died."

Romstadt said no athletes wanted to pull out: "We did speak to several team captains. I\'m not aware that any athletes came forward wanting to pull out of the competition."

Venue manager Tim Gayda said that despite the track\'s reputation for high speeds, recent competition and training runs gave no indication that such a fatality would occur.

And he stressed that simply putting hay bales or padding on the steel columns in question would have little positive effect.

"We did everything in our power to make it (the track) as safe as we can," said Gayda.

"If an athlete leaves the track, hay bales or whatever are not going to be sufficient. The measures that have been taken are to keep the athlete on the track."