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FIL considered cancelling luge competition

By Sharon Reich

WHISTLER (Reuters) - The International Luge Federation (FIL) considered cancelling the Olympic competition after Friday's fatality, secretary general Svein Romstad said on Sunday.

"We did discuss cancelling it, we talked to all the team managers and I think there was a general consensus to go forward," Romstad told Reuters on Sunday.

The build-up to the weekend's opening medal event at the Whistler Sliding Center was overshadowed by the horrific crash that claimed the life of Georgia's Nodar Kumaritashvili.

The debate has raged since over the safety of the track, acknowledged as the fastest in the world, and the handling of the tragedy by the FIL and the Vancouver organizing committee.

Both organizations maintained that the Whistler track was safe despite them subsequently making alterations to the 16th corner known as Thunderbird.

The FIL decided that human error was solely to blame for the accident.

"He made a mistake," Romstad said. "Having said that, on the same day Armin Zoeggeler, who won the bronze medal today and is a two-times Olympic champion, also made a mistake and crashed.

"I think it is very important to stress that Nodar was a very good athlete. I think it could have happened to any athlete. It's just circumstances.

"We haven't had a fatality in this sport for 35 years...any fatality is unacceptable.

"When we construct tracks we go through every single scenario, we follow all the expertise, experience we have to try to safeguard a track. We thought we had covered everything."

A candle, a few flowers and a photo of Kumaritashvili marked the scene of his death on Sunday. Wooden paneling has now been installed on the edge of the exit to the final 140kmh corner.

JUNIOR START

As well as the alterations to the corner, the start of the men's event, won by Germany's Felix Loch on Sunday, was brought down to the women's push-off while the women's race is going off from the junior start. Speeds at the weekend have been at least 10 kmh slower than before the crash.

"We had to make decisions very quickly because the Olympic competition was scheduled to start the next day," Romstad said.

"There were athletes who wanted to go from the men's start and there were coaches who wanted to go from it, people who wanted to move it down. We decided to err on the side of caution and move it down, mostly for an emotional reason."

Many of the athletes have raised concerns over the speeds achieved at Whistler and Romstad said the FIL would move to make future sliding tracks slower.

"Sochi planning has been taking place for well over a year," he said. "We recognize Whistler is fast and that's not the direction we want to go further.

"Sochi would love to say they have the fastest track in the world, every organizer wants to say this is the greatest, fastest or whatever. But we have recognized that we are here and don't want to go further in this direction."

Romstad also rejected claims that 21-year-old Kumaritashvili, a relatively inexperienced slider, should have been barred from entering the competition.

"Over the years we have become stricter and stricter and the rules that we currently have in place are very strict," he said. "Nodar had participated in five World Cups this year, he had 26 runs on this track.

"Nodar was absolutely qualified and deserved to be at the Olympic Games, unequivocally. He was a good athlete.

"We met yesterday with his uncle, who is the coach, we went to the place where he crashed, we met IOC president Rogge so we have been able to at least pay our respects to the family."

(Writing by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ed Osmond)