Deadly Luge Track Design Driven by Tourism

High-traffic location meant Whistler run had to be steep and narrow
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 17, 2010 10:02 AM CST
Deadly Luge Track Design Driven by Tourism
Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia is seen just before crashing during a training run for the men's singles luge at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2010.   (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

The harrowing speed and difficult turns of the sliding track at the Vancouver Olympics that claimed a luger’s life last week are the result more of the bottom line than any premeditated design decision. Seeking to keep revenues up after the Games, officials located the track at tourist-friendly Whistler in the Canadian Rockies, instead of what could have been a more suitable location nearer the city. That meant designers had to shoehorn it into a steep, narrow valley.

“That was not an engineering decision,” a bobsled federation official tells the Wall Street Journal. “That was a commercial decision.” The course’s designer says the topography meant the track had to have tight, high-G turns, and almost no turns toward the end, which pumped up the speed even higher than original estimates. Still, legal blame is unlikely. Athletes sign waivers before competition, and the designer who made the track so fast was not responsible for safety features or the roof, which required the column that ended Nodar Kumaritashvili’s life. (More Nodar Kumaritashvili stories.)

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