Thursday, July 29, 2010

Olympic Athlete Dies on Luge Track, Vancouver 2010

From True/Slant on February 14, 2010:

Luge Tragedy Hangs Over Olympic Games

As much fun as Saturday night’s short-track speed skating competition was (I know I am super late to the Apolo Anton Ohno party, but man, that guy is fun to watch), it was also the first night of Luge. With every run, I thought of the late Nodar Kumaritashvili and his family. And I breathed a sigh of relief each time another competitor crossed the finish line safely.

Like most Americans, I never give Luge a minute’s thought in between Olympics, but I generally look forward to it as the games near.

Luge is fascinating precisely because flying around on an ice covered Slip-N-Slide, on a sled, on one’s back, is just insane. It’s wacky, fast, and weird, which is why, every four years, I take such pleasure in it.

It is so strange, so foreign. The strangeness makes it compelling. Neophyte though I am, it seems to me that other than working a bomb-squad, or those deadly catch boats, this is one of the most dangerous endeavors a person could undertake. I never looked up the stats and I am told that it is not really as dangerous as it appears (centrifugal force and all that) but it has to be both scary and exhilarating to participate in luge. And I would surmise that the ability to overcome that fear is as valuable as strength and body control to competitors.

The danger. It’s always there.

Following Kumaritashvili’s fatal crash, some said it was driver inexperience, which struck me as about the most callous thing anybody could say just hours after a young man’s death.

But people who know the sport, who have a great understanding of it, say that the course is too fast and that the great Armin Zoggeler of Italy crashed in one of his practice runs at Whistler Sliding Center. Zoggeler has won four Olympic medals and eight World Championship medals. His peers say that he is one of the most technically perfect competitors in the sport.

So if Zoggeler can crash on that course, who is immune to crashing?

I know that athletes have died in other sports. And I also know that canceling all luge events would just be a foolish knee-jerk response.

We all gawk at dangerous spectacles — NASCAR, boxing, MMA, and, yes, luge, just to name a few. But it’s only really fun if the the danger remains theoretical. The hypothetical crash is no longer fun, because Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death is a reality, not a possibility.

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