Patterico's Pontifications

2/12/2010

Luge Death at the Olympics

Filed under: Sports — DRJ @ 2:00 pm



[Guest post by DRJ]

A 21-year-old Georgian luger was killed today at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver:

“Nodar Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled, went over the track wall and struck an unpadded steel pole near the finish line at Whistler Sliding Center. Doctors were unable to revive the 21-year-old luger, who died at a hospital, the International Olympic Committee said.”

A Romanian luger was injured today as well. The track is reportedly the world’s fastest. Some lugers have exceeded 90 mph and several have questioned its safety and the lugers’ decisions:

“I think they are pushing it a little too much,” Australia’s Hannah Campbell-Pegg said Thursday night after she nearly lost control in training. “To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we’re crash-test dummies? I mean, this is our lives.”

My condolences to Nodar Kumaritashvili’s family, friends and countrymen.

— DRJ

30 Responses to “Luge Death at the Olympics”

  1. I remember watching that event during the ABC telecasts in the 70’s, and I often wondered how many of them suffered serious injuries, or even death.

    Dmac (799abd)

  2. What a tragedy.

    JEA (648a50)

  3. but think of what this will do for ratings: lots of people will tune in just in the hopes of catching sight of a spectacular crash….

    its all about the money for the IOC and all the other leeches.

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  4. The video of the crash is horrific. Imaging being flung off the track at high speed and then impacted into 6×6 steel column. I doubt padding those steel colmns will help. My condolence to the man.

    PHH (acd353)

  5. he sure found out the hard way that dreams don’t always come true I think

    happyfeet (713679)

  6. What a tragic thing. I’m so sorry for his family and friends. When one considers what high hopes, optimism, and excitement he must have been sent with…

    With that, although I tend to agree that when going 90mph, a steel pole that is padded may do little to help, I can’t find it explained anywhere why there was an exposed, unpadded pole? It would seem that *every* bit of exposed steel on the course would be equally padded and secured…

    Dana (1e5ad4)

  7. Who designed a course with steel columns 6 feet or so away from the track? How stupid can you be? I have to believe that there is a hell of a lawsuit possible for this.

    BT (74cbec)

  8. So much of sport is mental. How can this accident not psychologically affect the performance and confidence of the other lugers and bobsledders? There are many reports that the design flaw is not the steel poles, but the accrued speed built into into the track near the bottom. (Reportedly it is the fastest in the world, so navigating it will be a new experience for all the competitors.)

    elissa (c7cd60)

  9. How difficult would it be to string safety nets above the curves?

    Evil Pundit (42e904)

  10. There are many reports that the design flaw is not the steel poles, but the accrued speed built into into the track near the bottom.

    Wouldn’t they go hand-in-hand? From the link, Kumaritashvili was going into the last curve and traveling far faster than what racers are comfortable with and because it was such an extraordinary speed (built in), his body weight was nowhere enough to push against the force of gravity in the curve. The combination was deadly and threw him over the curve.

    Wouldn’t steel poles, as well as that built-in accrued speed both be design flaws? I would love to hear from an engineer about this.

    Dana (1e5ad4)

  11. Pretty much, it’s a flaw if you can hit an unpadded steel pole going 10 mph, I didn’t read how fast he was going, but far slower than 90 mph will do the fatal damage perfectly. The designer/engineer made the track to be fast.

    All that said, though, isn’t the luge a bit like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane? It’s a dangerous sport, that’s part of the appeal. Going 80 mph with nothing but a helmet for protection isn’t exactly a safe thing to do, strap a pair of built-to-make-you-go-fast metal bars to your back and you’ve got a countdown for disaster happening sometime.

    I’m sorry for his family.

    Vivian Louise (643333)

  12. I would love to hear from an engineer about this

    Well sure, Dana, if you are for some reason more comfortable getting your design details and anaysis from an engineer than from a history major!

    Apparently the majority of the track is fully enclosed, but certain areas, and of course the end, are kept open for audience viewing and for the TV cameras. I’m not sure if I were a luger olympian (or their mama) I’d be too happy tonight.

    elissa (c7cd60)

  13. Wouldn’t steel poles, as well as that built-in accrued speed both be design flaws?

    Since accruing speed is the entire purpose of the sport, I’m going to say “No”.

    Subotai (3bb804)

  14. Not an engineer here, but I think the fact that the speed/banking/design of the track allows someone to leave the track is the problem. Losing control and flying through the air at 90 mph is bound to have a bad ending, whether there are steel poles in the vicinity or not. Even having “safety nets” would be hazardous as there would be little way to influence the angle of impact, hence dieing from a broken neck rather than a closed head injury. Whether the track needed plexiglass enclosures at some points or what I have no idea, but flying out of the track is what needs to be prevented.

    MD in Philly (d4668b)

  15. This is when the rankest societal hypocrisy comes out. We all want to blame someone/something for tragedy. So, we have fashioned a fundamentally corrupt tort bar that is biased to plaintiffs.

    Now, with a proven/known/foreseeable fatal hazard, we will insist that the Games go on. Then, the instant they end, we will insist that VANOC or some such be made to pay. Never mind that we tacitly sign off on the continued use of that deadly facility.

    Me? I say if competitors want to push envelopes, this is gonna happen and we should not stand in their way. But, when it goes wrong, these risk takers should not collect damages absent gross, and I mean extreme, negligence.

    Ed from SFV (f6a87d)

  16. Something like that is designed by a Team of engineers and if the pole had nothing to do with the track then it could have been another team of engineers as the pole might be something totally unrelated to the luge.

    Luges are not designed to be dangerous they are designed to be ridden with the skill needed to slow and acclerate a sled by maintaining torturous body discipline.

    EricPWJohnson (fef99c)

  17. Well sure, Dana, if you are for some reason more comfortable getting your design details and anaysis from an engineer than from a history major!
    Comment by elissa — 2/12/2010 @ 5:10 pm

    Heh. Well, I know it’s a bit crazy but it does seem an engineer *might* be able to add some detail and depth that non-engineers might overlook…but hey, when the post is about the Peloponnesian War, you’ll be my go-to girl!

    Dana (1e5ad4)

  18. Watch the video, and tell me that this track is good design.

    There is a row of these, they look like support columns for the roof, but they line the entire edge of the curve this man died in.

    Why was no forethought put into this design? It’s almost as if it was built for exactly this result.

    NavyspyII (df615d)

  19. Here’s the CBS video of the accident.

    http://tinyurl.com/y8pb9md

    NavyspyII (df615d)

  20. Of course Google decided to bring out their luge logo today.

    A little insensitive, if you ask me.

    Uncle Pinky (22f482)

  21. […] Thrown From Sled & Hits Steel Pole – Dies (Graphic Video) Patterico’s Pontifications: Luge Death at the Olympics News Daily: Luge death darkens mood as Winter Games […]

    SHOCKER: Luge Athlete, 21-Year-Old Nodar Kumaritashvili from Georgia, Killed on Olympic Track — Updated « Frugal Café Blog Zone (a66042)

  22. […] Thrown From Sled & Hits Steel Pole – Dies (Graphic Video) Patterico’s Pontifications: Luge Death at the Olympics News Daily: Luge death darkens mood as Winter Games […]

    Kumaritashvili’s Tragic Death: Olympics Athletes Worry about Safety of Luge Track, Google Logo Honors Luge Athlete Killed « Frugal Café Blog Zone (a66042)

  23. Based on the video, the steel columns are holding up a roof that covers part of the course, probably to prevent snow from blocking parts of the luge run. Those uprights are located quite close to the sides of the course. Not sure how it compares with similar courses elsewhere, but it definitely looks like a quick (and, as it turns out, deadly) accident waiting to happen.

    Mark (411533)

  24. The position and construction of the poles looks like an obvious mistake, but I think if those poles weren’t there he would probably have hit something (or somebody) else going 90 miles an hour. Unless he was going to be very lucky, the outcome might have been the same, or 2 people may have died. I think the issue is the design that allows someone to fly out of the track. Plexiglass walls or another enclosure was needed. I don’t think human projectiles at 90 mph fare well, even into a safety net, unless the impact is into something with the consistency of marshmallow goo or cotten candy that would very gradually absorb the energy.

    Even with an effectively closed-in track, having a wipe-out where your body is turning in the air prior to impact I would think would have a high risk of a broken neck or other spinal cord injury.

    MD in Philly (d4668b)

  25. […] Flies Off Track, Into Steel Pole and Dies Before Olympics Start Patterico’s Pontifications: Luge Death at the Olympics theage.com.au: Luge to go ahead after fatal crash New York Daily News: Nodar Kumaritashvili dies in […]

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  27. Speed yes, the sport’s about speed and there’s no flawed design in building a track for speed, leaving the metal bars exposed is a flaw. I know they need room for the cameras and audience at final stages of the track but there are other ways to do it, like an broader support structure to have room for some sort of nets and a long stretch of padded, free ground. Look at the Formula 1 tracks and use the same approach, it’s far worse to stop, with a certain degree of safety, a 500Kg car running at 300Km/h than a sledge and a man weighting 90Kg at 170Km/h, even in karting they now use protection nets with good results. If you want to host an event like this you’re supposed to spend money, I wonder how much will the impending lawsuit cost to the organization…

    John (ceda8f)

  28. […] Thrown From Sled & Hits Steel Pole – Dies (Graphic Video) Patterico’s Pontifications: Luge Death at the Olympics New York Daily News: Nodar Kumaritashvili dies in vain if IOC doesn’t make changes to […]

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  29. […] Thrown From Sled & Hits Steel Pole – Dies (Graphic Video) Patterico’s Pontifications: Luge Death at the Olympics New York Daily News: Nodar Kumaritashvili dies in vain if IOC doesn’t make changes to […]

    Olympics’ Problems in Vancouver Escalate: Luger’s Death, Malfunctions, Melting Snow, Shaun White Fans Turned Away, Olympic Flame Wire Fence, Power Outtage, Biathalon Errors « Frugal Café Blog Zone (a66042)

  30. It seems to me that there are several ways to add more safety to bob luger. Consider this:
    1.) Why not use a cargo net to act as a barrier extended up from both sides of the track to ensure that a luger isn’t flung from the track?

    2.) Any driver knows that roads normally have some kind of protective barrier (ie. barricades, guard rails, medians). I would think that something like that could be used to make luger more safe.

    3.) One of my favorite water parks is Wet N Wild in Florida. It reminds me of bobsledding. You get on an rubber inner tube and you slide down a winding water ride. You are completely enclosed in a tube. Why not have the sport take place in either a transparent tube or even a tube (still open to the elements) that extends up and around the bobsledder on both slides as they travel down?

    4.) Crashing 90 miles an hour into anything is definitely something I wouldn’t want to do. I would much rather hitting a padded steel column rather than the steel column itself.

    Obviously there is a lot of risk in luger, but surely it is not a bloodsport. Every conceivable precaution should be made to increase safety. Remember, the luger is motivated to get the fastest POSSIBLE time to win gold. They may make decisions while sledding to push it to the extreme. Surely they shouldn’t have to pay with their lives.

    I hope the IOC gets sued for all their worth on this one. Someone must be held accountable. If they can regulate doping and strip people of medals for failing a drug test, they need to be reminded of their responsibility to create safe competition.

    Tragic (d13e80)


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