Published November 20, 2014
PARIS (AP) — The International Luge Federation's 20-page — is that all his death deserved? — report into the horrific accident that killed Georgian Olympian Nodar Kumaritashvili is exactly what was expected: a self-serving whitewash.
His crash couldn't be foreseen, the FIL claims.
Kumaritashvili committed "driving errors," it charges.
We'll work to ensure that it doesn't happen again, it promises.
What the federation doesn't say, and likely never will: We are terribly, terribly sorry that a whole bunch of people — not just Kumaritashvili — may have messed up.
It is truly insulting — to Kumaritashvili's family, to other Olympians, to fans who were revolted and shaken by his death — that the FIL simply skirts over perhaps the biggest question behind the Feb 12 crash: Whose responsibility was it that the sliding track at the Vancouver Olympics proved to be so insanely fast? In hindsight, possibly fatally so.
Rehashing information that was long since been known, even before Kumaritashvili was killed, the report reiterates that the track turned out to be far faster than expected, with a top speed of 95.67 mph compared to 84.5 mph that its German designers had originally calculated.
But the report doesn't say why, nor whether the extra speed was a factor, perhaps a decisive factor, in the 21-year-old's death.
According to my calculations, the expected and actual speeds were out by 13 percent. In a school exam, that would easily be the difference between pass and fail. Such a variation surely wouldn't be acceptable in exacting industries such as aeronautical engineering where people's lives — as is the case in luge — can depend on getting sums right.
So who got this wrong and why? Will they be allowed within a million miles of a luge track in the future? Was the high speed the designers' mistake? The builders? Someone else? And are they paying compensation to Kumaritashvili's family?
The report doesn't say. It never uses the words "wrong," ''mistake" or "fault."
The FIL says experts who certified the track and computer simulations didn't foresee that a luger could be catapulted coming out of turn 16. But if those are the same computers that calculated the track's estimated top speed, can they and their programmers be trusted?
Maybe the FIL hoped that no one would notice its failure to explain why the track was 11 mph speedier than its designers originally calculated. That glaring omission means that its report cannot be regarded as a credible effort to get to the root of why Kumaritashvili is dead. This was about showing the International Olympic Committee what the FIL did right, not what anyone — other than Kumaritashvili himself, of course — may have done wrong.
The report makes clear that the FIL knew that the Whistler Sliding Center's unexpected quickness could be problematic.
"It was aware of the high speed," page 19 says. "Based on this, it implemented changes it believed would mitigate the challenges posed by the higher than anticipated speed."
Mitigate. Not solve, prevent or eradicate.
Without explaining how, the FIL says it determined that "this speed was within the ability of the luge athletes." It secured extra training runs at Whistler to help them cope.
"There were no indications there would be the possibility of an athlete actually leaving the track," the report says.
So only after Kumaritashvili smashed his head against a steel pillar at the exit of turn 16 did someone think to erect makeshift wooden barriers there and wrap the posts in padding.
Kumaritashvili won't be brought back by the FIL's stated insistence that the next Olympic track in Sochi, Russia, be no faster than 84 mph. If speed wasn't a factor in Kumaritashvili's death, then why make lugers slow down in 2014? The report doesn't explain other than saying that Whistler-like speed "was not a direction the FIL would like to see the sport head."
The report's page of detail about the last seconds of Kumaritashvili's life — how his trajectory into turn 16 was not ideal, how he reached out with his right hand, how his sled launched him into the air — also misses the point. The blow-by-blow account has the effect, doubtless unintended, of highlighting the contrasting silence about why the track was so much quicker than anticipated. That shows poor taste and poor judgment.
Anyone who saw the crash can describe what happened. The real question is why and should anyone beside Kumaritashvili shoulder some blame.
Luge still isn't providing all the necessary answers.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org.