Just hours before the XXI Olympic Winter Games were about to begin, tragedy struck Vancouver, as Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died during a training run.
As he entered one of the turns at blistering speeds of over 140 km/h, he flipped off his sled, and was spung into a steel pole.
The track at the Whistler Sliding Center is considered by many to be the fastest in the world, and Kumaritashvili was recording his fastest time out of six training runs, which means it is likely that he had never gone at a faster speed in his over the course of his career.
To underscore the speed of the track, American bobsledder Steven Holcomb expressed concern over its safety, calling the 13th curve the 50-50 curve, citing the chances of a crash. (It is worth noting that as a bobsledder, his worries would be exponentially greater than a luger’s, as the weight of a 4-man bobsled team is much more than a luger and his sled.)
Furthermore, Canadian sliding teams had limited foreigners’ use of the track, in an effort to gain a competitive advantage. This plan will no doubt come under fire as IOC president Jacques Rogge announced an investigation is underway.
Rogge added that the incident “clearly casts a shadow over these Games”, adding that “[Kumaritashvili] lost his life pursuing his passion. I have no words to say what we feel.”
It is unsure at this point whether the Georgian delegation of athletes (which numbered 12 before today’s accident) will take part in tonight’s Opening Ceremony, or the Games as a whole.
My feeling is they should go on to participate, in the name of the Olympic spirit. No doubt Levan Gureshidze, the country’s other luger as well as the other ten athletes, would be competing with a heavy heart, but stories of perseverance and dedication are what make the Olympics the global spectacle they are, and would no doubt be early candidates for the Terry Fox Award, which was put in place to honour an Olympian from any country who displays the most courage, humility and extraordinary athletic ability over the course of the 17 days of competition in Vancouver.