Just hours ahead of the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, a Georgian luger has died after flying off the track and crashing into a steel pole during a practice run.
Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, was traveling around 90 miles per hour when he lost control of his sled on a track that has seen its share of crashes in recent days.
Gold medal-favorite Armin Zoeggler of Italy crashed on the course earlier today, and a Romanian woman was knocked unconscious yesterday.
The Whistler Sliding Centre is known to be one of the fastest courses — if not the fastest — in the world; one of its turns goes by the name “50/50” because athletes figure there is a 50 percent chance of making it around while still on the sled. Before the crash today, the track had been described by one coach as “an elevator shaft with ice.” Some athletes have complained that the track is simply too treacherous.
“I think they are pushing it a little too much,” Australia’s Hannah Campbell-Pegg told the New York Times. “To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we’re crash-test dummies? I mean, this is our lives.”
Olympic competition in men’s luge is scheduled to begin Saturday. It’s unclear if that schedule would be affected.