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  • Olympic Luge Tragedy

    I'm sure we're all saddened by the death of the Georgian luge athlete before the start of the Olympics.

    All high speed sports are dangerous, and the participants accept the risk when they race. In this case, I understand that the course is about 6 mph faster than the previous fastest track. Some claim that it is too fast and that this led to the tragic accident.

    On TV, they said that the accident happened when the luge was moving at 88 mph. If we subtract the 6 mph track speed increase from this figure, the difference in energy of the crash is (88/82)^2 = 1.15. In other words, this track's increased speed added maybe 15% more energy to the crach. This is very rough figuring of course. Honestly, from the film, it was such a brutal impact that it's hard to imagine that the energy difference would have saved the unfortunate athlete. The track might well be too fast, but I can't conclude that this was the reason he perished. It was just simply a horrific accident.

    However, I'm dismayed and upset that Olympic officials blamed the accident on "human error". They reported that the luge got out of shape and wasn't corrected, leading to the accident. As I see it, in competitive racing where the athlete is pushing to the limit, it is to be expected that from time to time there will be loss of control. Of course the luge got out of shape and wasn't corrected! That statement applies to probably 99% of luge accidents. In my opinion it is in very poor taste for Olympic officials to make a formal statement to the press blaming the athlete for the accident. It seems to me that they are trying to deflect blame and reacting to criticism about the track.

    As I see it, "blame" is a totally inappropriate response. I feel that it is very insensitive to the athlete's loved ones to verbalize that his "human error" was the cause of his death. How callous! In motor racing, we simply call them accidents and leave it at that.

    In the meantime, officials have changed the start gates to slow the sleds down. This is probably a prudent move. They have also added padding to the metal poles around the track, including the very pole that the Georgian athlete struck. I have to wonder why the padding wasn't in place before the accident. Certainly, a luge leaving the track at high speed isn't unusual. It may not have mattered anyway. And, it's also true that no one can anticipate everything that may happen.

    In any case, I needed to vent about what I think is very poor and insensitive behavior by the Olympic officials.
    Last edited by Andy_M; 02-14-2010, 01:02 AM.

  • #2
    Re: Olympic Luge Tragedy

    Good thread and post. The officials certainly are not taking blame and yet they did slow it down which means there was a problem with the track, right?
    The luge is a very exciting event, but in my opinion overly dangerous. Wheter it is the athlete or spectator, there seems to be an unending need for more which eventually leads to injuries or in this case death. Very tragic.

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    • #3
      Re: Olympic Luge Tragedy

      Frank, I honestly don't know if the track was too fast or not. Like many people, I enjoy the sledding events but only watch during the Olympics and other major races. I'm the furthest possible from being an expert or even knowledgeable in that sport.

      I tend to think that the decision to slow things down is more in anticipation of the flack that they would get if (God forbid, please!!) there were to be another serious accident. Then people would ask why they didn't take action. So, were the changes to the track out of real concern, were they a response to a real problem, or were they C-Y-A motivated? No matter really. The spectators can't tell if the sled is going 82 mph or 88 mph - either way it's damn fast and the events will be just as exciting either way.

      I only wish I could tell the athlete's family to ignore idiotic statements about "human error". The young man was a world-class athete at the top of his game. Most of us can only dream about being at that level of sport, and we live it vicariously through men such as that one.

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      • #4
        Re: Olympic Luge Tragedy

        I'm no expert either, but common sense tells me that there are limits to man and machine, beyond which the odds of disaster greatly increase. I think the officials most certainly are doing some "C.Y.A.", as well as pondering the limits of this event. I agree that we live vicariously through these athletes, but our walter mitty like dreams and the real life aspirations of the athletes, do not change the laws of physics.

        I think it is the job of the officials in charge to monitor these events and step in when necessary, hopefully before lives are lost. We find rules in place in just about all sports, that attempt to make them more safe, and the Olympics are no different. The officials must be vigilant, proactive, and not allow individual aspirations or ratings to could their judgement. Do we want to celebrate the achievements of athleticism, or cheer for blood? I hope this tragic loss and reaction represents our desire for the former.

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        • #5
          Re: Olympic Luge Tragedy

          While this is of course a very sad and tragic event, tragic events have happened in almost all sports at one time or another. In this case could the course have been constructed in such a manner as to make it safer? Sure it could have but then some might have complained that it was too easy and needed to be more challenging. I really don't feel the officials were covering their behinds but by calling this human error they were telling it as it likely happened. As long as there is an envelope to be pushed someone will.
          Teach your kids about taxes..........eat 30 percent of their ice cream.

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          • #6
            Re: Olympic Luge Tragedy

            Hey, I've got a brilliant idea. Lets take a slab of plywood. screw some skates to it, lie on our backs, feet forward and go sailing down a mountain at 100 mph. Mankind does some pretty insane things for the thrill of it all.
            sigpic

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            • #7
              Re: Olympic Luge Tragedy

              Originally posted by NHMaster3015 View Post
              Hey, I've got a brilliant idea. Lets take a slab of plywood. screw some skates to it, lie on our backs, feet forward and go sailing down a mountain at 100 mph. Mankind does some pretty insane things for the thrill of it all.

              The same could be said for the ski jump!

              "Hey! Lets jump off a cliff!"

              How's THAT for a "Great Quotes" entry!

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Olympic Luge Tragedy

                Originally posted by NHMaster3015 View Post
                Hey, I've got a brilliant idea. Lets take a slab of plywood. screw some skates to it, lie on our backs, feet forward and go sailing down a mountain at 100 mph. Mankind does some pretty insane things for the thrill of it all.
                Well they already bested that and added skeleton. Lets do the same thing and go face first!

                I have to wonder why the padding wasn't in place before the accident. Certainly, a luge leaving the track at high speed isn't unusual.
                The luge leaving the track is very unusual the tracks are designed to keep the sledders inside the tracks. It is a rare case such as this that someone makes it outside the track.

                The Canadian authorities were put in a bad position immediately. The track is faster the previous tracks and the engineering is questionable since the sledder was able to make it outside the track. It was very easy to place blame on them.

                At the same time fans and and sledders want more exciting tracks. The engineers are pushed to make things more challenging. If they wanted to make things as safe as possible they could for example make a track that's a ten foot drop and sleds can only make it to 5 miles an hour.

                All the blame is put on the track designers when things go wrong. The Canadians did what people generally do when people make attacks on them. they hit back. Literally hundreds of runs were done before that accident with no incidents. They found no changes in the track. Human error is the correct conclusion imo.

                I feel they should have withheld any conclusion till after the event. The official stance should have been 'We have hired an independent inquiry who will provide results next month untill then we have made the following changes to ensure the future safety of contestants.'

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Olympic Luge Tragedy

                  I agree that had they withheld their conclusion and just acknowledged that they were going to make the changes while doing a thorough investigation, this would have been a much better way to handle the situation.

                  And if the accident was rare as you point out, then it was rare. Irrespective of that, the fact is that within hours after the accident, a wall was erected to better contain the sleds. Does this indicate an engineering oversight? Well, yes of course it does. Had the track designers anticipated this type of scenario, this could have been prevented. But is it reasonable to expect that should have anticipated? Maybe. This should be the focus of the investigation. Not to determine blame, but to learn for next time.

                  But the officials rushed out the results of their one-day investigation, placing all the blame on the athlete. They didn't, IMO, investigate anything. They chose to point fingers, and that is shameful.

                  And did the athlete lose control of his sled? Again, of course he did. That's what happens in high speed events, be it sledding, downhill skiing, of FOrmula One racing. Is it reasonable to say, "it's all his fault, he should not have crashed"? That's not an investigative result, it's just a trivial, petty and self-serving comment.

                  Fact is, it was a combination of the athlete making a particular error at that part of the track in conjunction with the track design that allowed him to fly off the course. There will always be oversights in design, and there will be mistakes made by people. Sometimes they DO result in death. It's happened before and will happen again, sadly.

                  Perfectly safe, 5 mph luge tracks is not practical nor is it the issue at all. Many sports are dangerous. Participants know of the risks, and this includes the risk that hazards go unrecognized until they happen.

                  The issue is childish and disgraceful finger pointing. Hitting back, as you say, is human nature. But responsible adults should know to control their base urges and act with professionalism, sensitivity and compassion. Except, I guess, for these Olympic officials.

                  This was an accident. The athlete made a mistake. The track designers made a mistake. No one wanted this to happen. Maybe there is some fault on the part of the track design. The world and the luge athletes deserve a reasonable investigation, as long as it's not a witch hunt.

                  But IMO there is just no excuse or justification for petty and self-serving finger pointing. It's detracts from the Olympic event,reflects poorly on the officials involved, and is hurtful to the athlete's loved ones.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Olympic Luge Tragedy

                    Its pretty interesting that they place the blame on the luger, when there have apparently been a ton of complaints lodged (by competing athletes) about the track being too fast. Presumably at least some of these complaints were from more experienced athletes. I remember reading one article where someone actually said "someone is going to get killed out here".

                    Regardless of the experience of the luger, how about the fact that the track design left steel beams unprotected anywhere near a low wall on the track? Yes, its unusual for a luger to leave the track. But, its also unusual for a car to have unintended acceleration.......but alas, both the luge and car problems were fixed AFTER someone got killed. Apparently most of the reason for the shorter wall and "thin" beams were for.....TV cameras to see better. Really? Someone died because of an unusual circumstance, and the fact that ratings would be better if we could see more?

                    Luge isnt a new sport...yes, its pretty insane, but the time has passed to blame the sport. Ive been thru many an olympics and have never seen someone die on the luge. Get hurt, yes....die, no.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Olympic Luge Tragedy

                      This track has been in use over a year with a world championship held in February 2009.

                      It's not some new "mystery danger" that has just been introduced.

                      J.C.

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                      • #12
                        Re: Olympic Luge Tragedy

                        Yes, exactly. And it's been getting criticism since the first runs, including by people that hold responsible positions in the Olympic oragnizing group. So the speed issue was recognized. Not sure about the issue of sleds being able to leave the track or the proximity of the metal poles.

                        But that's ok. I believe that people believed that the track was fast, but not a serious danger. It's a judgement call. I think it proved to be wrong, but hindsight is 20-20.

                        But was the luger responsible for his death? It just doesn't make any sense to me. The luger was responsible for crashing his sled. That happens in luge. But as I see it, that's all he was responsible for. Other factors beyond his control caused the crash to result in death.

                        Seems unrealistic to me to give the poor kid responsibility for something that he couldn't control. He didn't design or build the track. He crashed, like lugers do.

                        Maybe no one deserves blame. These things happen in speed sports. I just think it was disgraceful for the officials to rush out a statement blaming the kid and not making any mention that the facility played a role.

                        An example of pettiness at its absolute worst.
                        Last edited by Andy_M; 02-17-2010, 07:10 PM.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Olympic Luge Tragedy

                          With the current information I have, I don't think anyone can be blamed. Many times when some accident like this occurs that is unfair people need a reason why or someone to blame in order to cope.

                          I have to say though, the very first time I saw the incident-I was watching and saying to myself, "Wonder what happened or where this person had their wreck?"

                          I'm watching, he goes through curves, then he gets to the bottom and I don't even know it's the bottom because I have not seen one run on the track. The FIRST thing I thought is those poles seem too close, then I saw what happened.

                          Only way to know how freak of an accident this may have been is to compare the track to other designs.

                          J.C.

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