Men's start switched after fatal crash

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By Alan Baldwin

WHISTLER (Reuters) - The Olympic men's luge competition will run from the lower women's start as an extra precaution after the death of a Georgian slider in training, organizers said on Saturday.

Training was due to resume with two full runs for the men at the Whistler Sliding Center on Saturday after 21-year-old Nodar Kumaritashvili, a first-time Olympian, was killed in a crash the day before.

Organizers have since raised the walls at the exit of curve 16 where he died and changed the ice profile as preventative measures, despite concluding that there was no indication the accident was caused by any deficiency in the track.

The medals will be decided on Sunday.

"The jury has made a decision to lower the men's competition start to the current women's start," FIL (International Luge Federation) secretary general Svein Romstad told a news conference.

"Also the technical delegates and jury are currently working with the track management to adjust the women's and doubles starts as a precautionary measure," he said. "As soon as a decision has been made on this, we will inform you."

Romstad said the decision had been taken primarily for emotional reasons, to reassure the shaken sliders after the tragic event.

"The primary concern we have right now is the emotional aspect of it," he added, pointing out that the difference in speeds reached by the men and women from their respective starts was around 10kph.

An FIL spokesman later told Reuters that the competitors would now no longer have to negotiate two corners and the steepest part of the track as a result of the start switch.

Kumaritashvili's team mate Levan Gureshidze was among those due to resume training.

Wearing a black armband, Gureshidze did not take part in the first run but is on the start list for the second.

The Whistler Sliding Center is acknowledged as the fastest in the world, although an FIL spokesman said on Friday there had been 2,500 runs with only a three percent crash rate.

However, athletes have been remarking all week on the speed and technical difficulty of the 1,400 meter track which features corners nicknamed 50-50 and Shiver.

FIL spokesman Wolfgang Harder said earlier in the week, when Manuel Pfister set the fastest recorded luge speed of 154kph, that future tracks would need to be slowed down to protect the safety of athletes.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Jon Bramley)