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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 14, 2010

Winter Olympics: Women's lugers upset with track changes

Associated Press

WHISTLER, British Columbia Top women lugers are upset with the decision to begin racing from a lower spot on the Olympic track, a switch made to limit speeds following the death of a Georgian man during training.

"It's not fun," German gold-medal hopeful Natalie Geisenberger said.

Geisenberger made little effort to hide her frustration, adding that the course now essentially seems like one built for children.

"It's for all the same," Geisenberger said. "But I'm not happy. It's not for ladies. It's a kinder start."

Nodar Kumaritashvili died Friday when he came around the final curve at nearly 90 mph, lost control and was thrown from his sled, over a track wall and into a steel post.

International luge officials decided to make several changes to the Olympic program after that wreck, including having all sliders men, women and doubles teams start farther down the track.

That's created a scramble for racers to figure out what feels in many ways like a new course, which is about 800 feet shorter than what the women came to Canada expecting.

"It couldn't just be ignored," said world champion Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y. "I don't know what went on behind closed doors, but there weren't very many options. You can't change how the track was built in 24 hours."

For the women, the start dictates the entire competition more than ever.

They're taking off near Curve 6 from a flat start built for junior sliders who are still learning the sliding craft not for the best women in the world competing for Olympic gold. Enter that curve correctly, and you have a chance to win. Enter that curve incorrectly, you lose time that will almost certainly prove too difficult to make up.

"It'll make or break the race," Hamlin said.

World Cup champion Tatjana Huefner said sliders will simply have to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation.

"It's not easy," Huefner said.

The women completed training Sunday. Their two-day competition begins Monday, with medals to be awarded Tuesday.

"I think (the changes are) good because of this terrible accident," Geisenberger said. "But they had to do that one year earlier, not when one is dead. That's too late. They are afraid now, but we can't do something for him. He's dead."