The International Olympic Committee will name a "neutral expert" recommended by luge, bobsleigh and skeleton officials next week to review the safety of the ice track for the 2014 Winter Olympics at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia.
Sochi Games chief Dmitry Chernyshenko predicted the course would be "10 to 15 kilometres less fast [than at Whistler, B.C.]" where Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a training crash just before the Feb. 12 Vancouver Olympics' opening ceremony.
Reduced speeds are dictated in a report on the accident by the International Luge Federation, known by French acronym FIL. Top speeds at Sochi are expected to be less than 140 km/h, compared to the blazing 154 km/h clocked at the Whistler track for the luge competition. The Whistler track, designed for luge speeds of about 138 km/h, came under criticism after the crash that killed the 21-year-old Georgian.
"This was not a direction the FIL would like to see the sport head," the report said of the excess speed. "President [Josef]Fendt wrote a letter to the Sochi 2014 organizing committee … stating that the FIL will not homologize [approve]the proposed Sochi track if the speeds were to exceed 130-135 km/h," the report said.
"Safety should be the key factor. There should be no compromise," Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak said.
Designs for the Sochi course were drawn up by veteran German engineer Udo Gurgel, who also created the Whistler course. It will have at least two uphill segments which will help slow sleds.
Sochi organizers will run three-dimensional simulations on all potential scenarios to make sure a similar incident is avoided, Kozak said.
The Georgian athlete was travelling at an estimated 144 km/h when he lost control of his sled and slammed into a metal support standard.
"Following what happened in Vancouver, we have tried to understand with the [international federations]how they could verify all the calculations of the engineers," said Gilbert Felli, IOC executive director for the Games. Felli said that the "field of play" in all Olympic sports are the responsibility of the international federations.
Fendt has called for incorporating appropriate safety measures for luge riders. Fendt said that he was one of many concerned about the track's safety after an international training week there in November of 2008. The concerns were also outlined in the FIL report: "Due to speeds being faster than originally calculated by the design firm, the FIL asked for additional training days," so athletes could progressively get used to the speed at Whistler. They were mandated to take three runs from the novice start, two from the junior start and one from the women's start before trying the full course.