The start of the games were  marred by the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a practice run on Friday.  After viewing the video a few times, I came to a couple of conclusions:

  • When I first heard that Kumaritashvili had struck an unpadded steel pole, I wondered why the poles were unpadded and wondering how much this contributed to his death.  However, after viewing the video, I’m not sure that he would have fared any better with a padded pole.  The poor guy had already taken a fairly bad beating by the time he was propelled off the course.  Of course, padding the poles would still be a good idea.
  • It seems fairly apparent that pilot error was the major factor.  Compare Kumaritashvili’s crash to the crash of defending Olympic champion Armin Zoeggeler earlier in the day.  Zoeggeler is able to quickly gain control of his sled and escape injury.  Undoubtedly, there were other differing factors in the two crashes, but the way the athletes dealt with the crash is vastly different.  This isn’t to fault Kumaritashvili – he simply didn’t have the same amount of experience as some of the other lugers.
  • Is the track too dangerous?  That’s not an easy question to answer.  An Olympic venue should strive to challenge the abilities of the athletes, and luge is inherently dangerous.  Is the Whistler track too challenging?  Perhaps, perhaps not.

Officials looked into several options to reduce the chance of further tragedy on the course at the Whistler Sliding Centre, including the possibility of canceling the event entirely.  In the end, they constructed a retaining wall at the spot where Kumaritashvili left the course.  They also decided that the male competitors should start further down the track, at the starting location typically used by the women.  This served to cut speeds from 95 mph to 90 mph.

A few things jumped out at me during the opening ceremonies (and related NBC coverage):

  • The fact that 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the US is pretty amazing, considering how large Canada is.
  • When I heard the stat about the 5000 mile border between the US being the longest friendly border in the world, I had a mental hiccup wondering how on earth this could be 5000 miles, considering that it’s only about 3000-3500 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.  Oh, right.  Alaska has a sizable border with Canada.
  • The ovation for the Georgian delegation was great.  Not that I would have expected anything less from the fine citizens of Canada.
  • I enjoyed seeing the athletes from the warm weather countries.  I got a chuckle out of the contingent from Bermuda – wearing their Bermuda shorts.
  • Each time I see an Olympic flame lighted, I am reminded of my favorite Olympic memory – the ’92 games in Barcelona, when an archer shot a flaming arrow into the caldron to light it.  Although this wasn’t as difficult (for elite archers) as it appeared – in practice, a bunch of archers had shot thousands of arrows, and only a handful miss) – it was flat-out awesome.  18 years later, it still resonates with me.

The games are well under way.  Simon Ammann of Switzerland picked up the first gold medal of the games, in ski jumping.  Hannah Kearney picked up the first American gold in moguls.  Apolo Ohno nabbed a silver in a wild and crazy short track 1500 meter race – three skaters from South Korea were ahead of him, but two of them got tangled and crashed out of the race near the end.

American skier Lindsey Vonn gained a few extra days to recover from her shin injury as a result of weather-related delays in her events.

Men’s luge is halfway done, with young German phenom Felix Loch currently atop the standings.  The gold medal will be awarded today.  The female lugers will compete on Monday and Tuesday.  Happy sliding, guys and gals!

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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