Winter Olympics: Sochi’s bobsled, skeleton and luge track safety

Winter Olympics preview: Sochi’s bobsled, skeleton and luge track safety enhancements after the death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

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Safer Sledding?: Sochi’s Sliding Track Venue Looks To Diminish Risk Of Crashes

A CBC News article published in 2011 revealed that 11 months prior to the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a crash on a practice run at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, officials with the organizing committee questioned the safety of the luge track. The possibility of an athlete getting “badly injured or worse” was even brought up in memos. Also in the email thread among the organizers, John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Olympics organizing committee, wrote: “I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing.”


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Sadly, it took Kumaritashvili’s death to get something done about enhancing safety in the luge, bobsled and skeleton events. Granted, these are highly dangerous sports no matter what precautions may be taken, but if anything can be done to minimize the chances of catastrophe, it should.

The 2014 Olympic luge, bobsled and skeleton venue in Sochi looks to increase that safety. According to the man in charge of the venue, Vyacheslav Shavlev, in an interview with R-Sport in September, “I answer for the track, and today, in my opinion, the track is extremely safe.”

Shavlev also says that he can’t give any guarantees to athletes who may not have the skill to navigate the tracks.

“If an athlete comes here and doesn’t have enough experience of negotiating these kinds of tracks … I can’t give any kind of guarantee whatsoever,” he said. “This [safety] is the responsibility of the coach and the competition organizers.”

Among the elements of the Sochi sliding track that may enhance safety are the additions of uphill sections.

“They added some uphill sections to the track to slow down the speed, so it doesn’t see the high speeds we had in Vancouver,” American luger Julia Clukey said after competing on the track in 2012.

“As soon as you pick up a little speed, you hit an uphill section that slows you down,” concurred U.S. Olympic bobsledder Steven Holcomb.

According to Russian luger Albert Demtschenko in R-Sport, speeds of 77 miles per hour were reached on the Sochi track during August training, compared with the 89 miles per hour Kumaritashvili was traveling when he crashed in 2010, or the 91 miles per hour German Felix Loch reached while winning the 2010 Olympic title.

Of course, while these Olympic versions of “speed bumps” may result in safer sledding conditions, and while hurtling down a track on a sled at 77 miles per hour still seems incredibly fast to most of us, some feel it may diminish the skill required in the event.

In 2012, Russia luge coach Valery Silakov told RIA Novosti that the track is “not very challenging,” though he did admit that “it’s unlikely that there will be a lot of falls.”

Winter Games At A Glance
Click on sport to view TV schedule.
Opening/Closing Ceremonies Feb. 7, 23
Alpine Skiing Feb. 9-10, 12, 14-16, 18-19, 21-22
Biathlon Feb. 8-11, 13-14, 16-17, 19, 21-22
Bobsled Feb. 16-19, 22-23
Cross-Country Skiing Feb. 8-9, 11, 13-16, 19, 22-23
Curling Feb. 10-21
Figure Skating Feb. 6, 8-9, 11-14, 16-17, 19-20, 22
Freestyle Skiing Feb. 6, 8, 10-11, 13-14, 17-18, 20-21
Ice Hockey Feb. 8-23
Luge Feb. 8-13
Nordic Combined Feb. 12, 18, 20
Short Track Speed Skating Feb. 10, 13, 15, 18, 21
Skeleton Feb. 13-15
Ski Jumping Feb. 8-9, 11, 14-15, 17
Snowboard Feb. 6, 8-9, 11-12, 16-17, 19, 22
Speed Skating Feb. 8-13, 15-16, 18-19, 21-22
All sports have live and on demand coverage on and on the NBC Sports Live Extra mobile app.

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