Sliding track modified for safety
By TOM WITHERS and TIM REYNOLDS
Associated Press Writers
WHISTLER, British Columbia — Everyone made it down safely.
For luge, that meant progress, healing and normalcy.
Cowbells clanged, fans with painted faces waved flags, and even IOC president Jacques Rogge looked on as the celebration of this hyper-speedy sport resumed one day after tragedy rocked the sliding community and threatened to spoil the spirit of the Vancouver Games.
Germany's Felix Loch was the leader after the first two heats of men's singles last night, and there were no major incident on a track made shorter, slower and safer in the wake of Nodar Kumaritashvili's death during a training run the day before.
"Life will go on," said U.S. Olympic rookie Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y. "And everyone's classifying this sport as dangerous. It's so unfortunate what happened. Every track in the world, there's always spots where it can happen. This is just the first time that it actually has. It's tragic, but everyone coming and showing up here, it builds you up as a slider."
Germany's David Moeller was second, followed by Italy's Armin Zoeggeler, the two-time defending Olympic champ. American Tony Benshoof was seventh heading into today's final two runs.
Russia's Albert Demtschenko, who won silver four years ago in Turin, was fourth and conceded he won't leave with gold.
"I am too late," he said. "It is over."
There was only one fearful moment, when Swiss rider Stefan Hoehener nearly flipped exiting a turn. But he somehow recovered, scrambled back aboard after a long skid and finished his second run, drawing a huge roar from the packed grandstand.
During the night, workers constructed a wooden wall to cover the row of steel beams that Kumaritashvili hit at nearly 90 mph. Others were wrapped in padding.
To slow speeds, officials shortened the run, decreeing that men would go from the women's start, and the women and doubles from the juniors' start. Also, the contour of the final, sweeping turn had been changed to prevent sleds from drifting too high onto the curved walls.
Not everyone seemed happy.
"It's slow," said Austria's Manuel Pfister, who was clocked at almost 96 mph on Thursday. "It's completely different. Yesterday, I was able to slide with the medal ranks, today it's another race. It's difficult for me. Maybe it's now too easy."
Kumaritashvili's teammate, Levan Gureshidze, did not race. He was on the official start list for the first heat but withdrew, telling other racers he couldn't go on.