Deadly crash in luge dampens opening
• Photo gallery: Vancouver Winter Olympics opening ceremony
By TIM REYNOLDS and TOM WITHERS
WHISTLER, British Columbia — It took only three seconds.
Sliding faster than ever in his life, 21-year-old Nodar Kumaritashvili had one turn left in his final Olympic training run yesterday. Flirting with 90 mph on a $100 million track pushing speed to the outer limits, the luger from the republic of Georgia tilted his head slightly forward as his sled climbed the high-banked wall.
His last move.
Kumaritashvili lost control, crashing into the wall entering the final straightaway. His body went airborne, arms and legs flailing over the opposite side of the track, his upper body smashing into an unpadded steel pole as his sled continued skidding down the track. It all took just 48.9 seconds, start to crash.
Paramedics began working on Kumaritashvili within seconds, quickly starting chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, all to no avail.
The IOC said Kumaritashvili was pronounced dead at a trauma center in Whistler.
Less than an hour after the accident, a representative from each team was told the grim news.
With that, tears began flowing across the close-knit sliding world and throughout the Olympic family.
"I have no words," a teary International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said, "to say what we feel."
Within an hour of the accident, an investigation was opened. Security officials closed access to the crash area and the remainder of the track for the rest of the day, and all further training runs scheduled yesterday were canceled.
Women's luge Olympians are scheduled to train at the track this morning, nine hours before the men's two-day competition is set to begin.
"It is a nervous situation," Latvian luge federation president Atis Strenga said. "It's a big tragedy for all (of) luge. I hope, we all hope, it's the first accident and the last accident in this race."
The danger of the Whistler track has been talked about for months — particularly after several countries, including the U.S., were upset with restrictions over access to the facility by nations other than Canada, some noting it could lead to a safety issue. Some sliders, especially those from small luge federations, saw the world's fastest track this week for the first time.
Nikolos Rurua, the Georgian minister of culture and sport, said Kumaritashvili had been on the Whistler surface before, and it would be unfair to say that the slider was ill-prepared for the test of the demanding track.
"When you are going that fast it just takes one slip and you can have that big mistake," U.S. doubles luger Christian Niccum said Thursday, when asked about track safety. "All of us are very calm going down, but if you start jerking at 90 mph or making quick reactions, that sled will steer. That's the difference between luge and bobsled and skeleton, we're riding on a very sharp edge and that sled will go exactly where we tell it to so you better be telling it the right things on the way down."
The luge federation had several options, including delaying competition, trying to re-shape the ice to make some curves less severe, having men's sliders start from the women's ramp — which would keep speed a bit more in check — or simply going forward as scheduled.
Officials in Vancouver and Whistler both stressed that no decisions regarding what happens next would be made before the initial investigations are complete.
"It's not nice, but I hope they will make the track as safe as possible," said bobsledder Timothy Beck from the Netherlands.
"These accidents should not happen," Swiss figure skater Sarah Meier said.
"This is dangerous," German bobsled star Andre Lange said. "You should never forget that."
MEN'S DOWNHILL IN DOUBT; WOMEN'S RACE POSTPONED
The men's downhill that is to open Alpine skiing at the Olympics today is at high risk of being postponed.
"Right now, we need the temperature to go down," race director Guenter Hujara said yesterday. "If it remains the same I can say for sure there will be no downhill tomorrow.
The forecast calls for a high of 43 degrees and the wind to be at more than 30 mph with a mix of rain, snow, sleet and fog at the course's midpoint.
"We know that we have accurate weather forecasting for what lies ahead and we'll take the necessary steps to see what we can safely call racing out there," said Peter Bosinger, the Vancouver organizing committee's sport manager for Alpine skiing.
The forecast is similar to the warm weather that prompted both men's and women's downhill training to be canceled yesterday.
Rain pelted the bottom portion of the Dave Murray downhill course virtually all day, turning the slope into a slushy mess.
The women's super-combined originally scheduled for tomorrow has already been postponed indefinitely, with a training session slated instead.
Bosinger indicated that if the men's downhill is postponed, it might not be held tomorrow, either.
DELAYS GIVING VONN EXTRA TIME TO HEAL BRUISED SHIN
Warm, wet weather is turning this mountain into a mushy mess, wiping out training runs and postponing the opening women's Alpine race.
Hardly ideal conditions at any competition, let alone the Winter Olympics, right? Try telling that to Lindsey Vonn. She loves the way things are going. Every delay provides extra time for her badly bruised right shin to rest and heal.
"I'm lucking out pretty heavily because of all the cancellations," the American said yesterday. "Normally I would be disappointed. But for my shin, I think, this is the best possible scenario."
The first women's event, tomorrow's super-combined, was put off because racers will not have had a chance to train on the downhill course. Thursday's training run was scrapped after two racers started, and practice was canceled altogether for yesterday and today.
Much was unknown, including when the women will train and when the super-combined will be raced.
Such schedule disruptions might distress plenty of people — from athletes to spectators, from Olympic and skiing officials to TV types — but certainly not Vonn.
"This helps us, for sure," said Thomas Vonn, who serves as a coach and adviser to his wife.
He said her leg is "definitely getting better each day."
The two-time overall World Cup champion has been pegged as a medal contender in all five Alpine events, and an overwhelming favorite in the downhill and super-G.
But that was before Lindsey Vonn revealed Wednesday that she was hurt last week in pre-Olympic practice. She fell during a slalom training run and slammed her right boot against her leg.
OHNO ON TRACK FOR RECORD SIXTH OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL
Apolo Anton Ohno hardly seems burdened by the weight of Olympic history.
As he circled the track time and time again at Pacific Coliseum yesterday, he couldn't seem to stop yawning. Even as he prepared to practice the harrowing relay exchange — which looks something akin to the finish of a stock car race, complete chaos with all sorts of bumping and drafting — Ohno's mouth was agape for several seconds, as if he could barely stay awake.
Then, suddenly, he swerved onto the track, pushed off on those short, powerful legs and — whoosh! — he was gone.
Next stop, the record book.
When short track begins tonight, Ohno will try to become the most decorated Olympic skater in the history of this thrilling, high-speed sport. He already has five medals from Salt Lake City and Turin — no one has ever won six.
"I am ready. No regrets, no fears, no hesitation," he tweeted after the hourlong workout, his final prep for the 1,500 meters. "Enjoying every minute. I'll give my all for USA. And smile every step of the way."