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Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia competes during luge training ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, February 10, 2010. Kumaritashvili was killed after crashing during a training run February 12. (Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters)
Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia competes during luge training ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, February 10, 2010. Kumaritashvili was killed after crashing during a training run February 12. (Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters)

Luge accident victim's father blames VANOC for death Add to ...

The father of a Georgian luger killed on the first day of the 2010 Olympics is angry that Vancouver officials didn't act on their own concerns about the luge track's safety.

In the aftermath of Nodar Kumaritashvili's death, both luge officials and Olympic organizers maintained they believed the track was safe.

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But internal emails released Monday disclose that the chief executive officer of the Games raised concerns almost a year earlier that athletes could be injured "or worse" at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

Since International Luge Federation officials didn't demand changes to the track however, nothing was done.

David Kumaritashvili told The Associated Press that the organizing committee's failure to take action led to the death of his son.

"I am indignant that they were aware that the track was dangerous and failed to make it safer, they did not take any measures. And that led to the death of my son," he said.

"And only his death prompted them to take the necessary measures. As I already not once said, maybe his death helped to save other lugers' lives."

After 21-year-old Kumaritashvili was killed during a training run on the Whistler track, Games CEO John Furlong often repeated that such an incident was beyond his imagination.

"It's not something I am prepared for, or anything I ever thought I would need to prepare for," he told the media the day of the accident, which was also the first day of the Games.

But in an e-mail dated March 2009, Furlong raised the spectre that something could happen.

The e-mails were released Monday by Vancouver Olympic Committee spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade and are in response to a letter from the International Luge Federation (FIL) letter to the track's German designer.

The letter from FIL raises concerns about blistering practice times on the track but focuses on finding out what's being done to ensure the track for the 2014 Olympics in Russia won't be built the same way.

Still, the letter created confusion among Vancouver organizers as to whether they should be doing something to change the Whistler track.

"Imbedded in this note (cryptic as it may be) is a warning that the track is in their view too fast and someone could get badly hurt," Furlong writes.

"An athlete gets badly injured or worse and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing."

The confusion actually began years earlier, according to the documents.

After a series of crashes on the Turin, Italy, luge track in 2005 during test events for the Games the following year, the track there was changed, sparking a discussion about whether the Whistler track also needed to be fixed.

"We have been informed by (the track designer Udo) Gurgel that should modifications to the six corners not be made, it is very likely that the same issues as Torino will be encountered regardless of the luge athletes' skill and ability level," said a 2006 briefing note.

The corners included the one where Kumaritashvili died.

But the documents suggest FIL and the bobsleigh federation could not agree on potential changes and eventually they decided to just go ahead with the Whistler track as planned.

Craig Lehto, who ran the Whistler Sliding Centre during the Games, said the dangerous nature of the sport was always on everybody's mind.

"The sliding sports are very, very fast so at any time I think you're always on that aspect of trying to do the very best you can and that you've done what these [International Federations]have asked you do," he said in an interview Monday.

"You can't eliminate it from your mind, ever."

But the reality was, Lehto said, it was not the Vancouver committee's job to devise track specifications but up to the federations.

"They are the experts in these fields," he said.

Canadian Jon Montgomery, who won a gold medal in skeleton on the Whistler track during the Games, said no one could have foreseen the circumstances that lead to Kumaritashvili's death.

Some changes to the track had been made after test events in 2008.

They were made to keep anyone falling off a sled from being pitched over the edge, Montgomery said during a telephone conference call from Konigsee, Germany.

"The FIL didn't even find the track could potentially lead somebody out and over the edge of it in the manner of which Nodar did get ejected from the track," he said.

"What happened to Nodar was incredibility unforeseen and incredibly tragic and almost a perfect storm. You have three storm fronts coming together to create this massive tragedy. You cannot ever hypothesize that would have happened to Nodar."

Montgmery said he has no misgivings about the safety of the track.

"As far as I am concerned, as far as a lot of my sliding compatriots are concerned, it is an absolutely freak accident that should, and probably will, never happen again," he said.

In Furlong's new memoir, due to be released on the one-year anniversary of the Games, he spends considerable time dealing with the aftermath of Kumaritashvili's death.

He recounted how, upon learning of the young man's death, he felt like he lost a son.

In all the crisis scenarios devised around the Games, Furlong wrote, "never in our wildest dreams did we imagine the death of an athlete on opening day."

Furlong revealed in the book that the young luger's family received a $150,000 insurance payout from the organizing committee.

But he also delivered $25,000 in cash to the family himself when he attended a memorial service in Georgia.

"Their son had not been out of my thoughts since that tragic Friday," Furlong wrote.

"To visit his family would be healing for me as well."

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