Post-tragedy course changes bring more controversy to luge events
WHISTLER, British Columbia -- Through protests and tragedies, the Games have always gone on, and it was no different Saturday evening at the luge course in Whistler. The first two runs of the men's competition went on as scheduled, one day after 21-year-old Georgian luger
Though Kumaritashvili's death did not stop the luge competition, it did bring drastic changes to it. Curve 16 -- the final curve of the course, the so-called Thunderbird curve, where Kumaritashvili was killed -- now features a wooden retaining wall, and the ice has been shaved to make the chute more rectangular, keeping riders from sliding up the side.
The Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) and the International Luge Federation (FIL) also decided to start the men from the women's start, which is three curves lower and skips the steep drops at the top of the course. "We're only going about [5 mph] slower by the finish," said U.S. luger
Benshoof, like most other riders, trained for the traditional men's start and would have preferred to go from the top. Benshoof, who took fourth at the 2006 Games in Turin, has been plagued by back problems. He said the women's start is less steep than the men's, requiring a harder push and putting more stress on his back. "My starts were really slow," said Benshoof, who was in seventh after two runs. The lugers generally agreed the start change would favor the Germans because of their strong pushes. Germans were in first, second and fifth going into Sunday's final two runs, and German luger
Lugers are still getting up around 90 mph at the bottom of the course, and U.S. slider
There was one conspicuous absence at the course on Saturday:
On Saturday morning, Keshavan had said the pre-race training runs "felt different. We usually slide and enjoy ourselves, and today you didn't have that joy. At the same time, we are professional athletes, and we have a duty to perform." This sentiment was echoed by athlete after athlete on Saturday. Canadian luger
Canadian luge team coach
The fact that Canadians got extra practice on the course was a point of heated contention even before Kumaritashvili's death, and it only intensified after the accident. Canadian athletes got 250 or more runs in Whistler, while athletes from other countries only got around 40. Such a home-course advantage is customary in the sliding world, but the sheer speed of the Whistler course -- lugers have reached speeds in the high 90s, over 10 mph faster than any other course in the world -- had athletes and coaches questioning the decision to limit access. On Saturday, VANOC officials said the track was opened for extra training in January to all sliders who were lower than 30th in World Cup rankings. Kumaritashvili does not appear to have visited during the extra training period, however.
Canada invested $117 million in its Own the Podium initiative to attempt to top the medal count, and the program's CEO,
Debate about limiting access to courses will continue after the Games, but on Saturday, attention was focused on Curve 16. There, beneath falling snow, was a small bouquet of yellow daffodils and a picture of the Northern Lights on which someone had written: "Just like gold, your dream will last forever!"