By Martyn Herman
WHISTLER (Reuters) - The women's Olympic luge competition has been turned into a kids race after organizers lowered the starting point for safety reasons, Germany's Natalie Geisenberger said on Sunday.
Friday's fatal accident at the Whistler Sliding Center forced the International Luge Federation (FIL) to lower the men's start to the woman's push-off point and Monday's women's race will now go from the junior start.
"I'm not happy about the new start," Geisenberger, one of a trio of Germans who will battle for gold on Monday and Tuesday, told reporters. It's not a woman's start, it's a kinder (German for children's) start.
"The rest of the track is okay but it's not as fast as from the proper start. It's the same for all the athletes but I don't like it. I felt very good but now because of the new start it's not much fun."
Favorite Tatjana Huefner, who completed a German sweep of the women's luge medals in Turin four years ago when she took bronze, was quickest in both women's training runs on Friday but was also a little subdued.
"It's the rules that we go from the junior start and I'll just have to make the best of the next two days," she said after achieving a top speed of 82.3 mph, significantly down on the speeds recorded from the proper start.
"It doesn't mean it's easy. We are still going 130kmh. The new position does not help the good starters like myself."
The women's track has been reduced from 1,198 meters to 953, lopping off the first three corners, but American world champion Erin Hamlin said it was still demanding.
"Something had to be addressed because of what happened and there weren't many options because you can't change how the track was built," Hamlin told reporters.
"We are still hitting 80mph so it's not a walk in the park but it's definitely not the same."
"It's an abnormal start," added Hamlin's team mate Julia Clukey. "Now you have two or three paddles and you have to turn the sled. Don't get that clean and you don't have a chance."
Hamlin and Canada's Alex Gough are the main threats to the German team tipped to sweep the podium for the third Games in a row. Anke Wischnewski is the third member of the red, gold and black juggernaut.
"One medal is a must, two would be okay and three would be perfect," Thomas Schwab, Germany's luge team sports director, told Reuters.
The luge events have been overshadowed by the death of 21-year-old Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training crash on Friday. He lost control of his sled and left the track before plowing into a steel pillar.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)