The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Olympic Games:
Safety Last

Mar 1, 2010

On the eve of the opening of the Olympic Games in Vancouver, a young Georgian athlete died in a trial race on the luge track. He went off course on a curve, shooting off his sled. His head hit one of the metal posts next to the track. With a speed of 87 mph and only a helmet for protection, he had no chance of avoiding a deadly blow.

The organizers of the games and the directors of the international luge federation were quick to avoid taking responsibility. The very same day, they declared that the death of the luger was due to “human error” and that “the accident wasn’t due to any fault of the track.” In this way, the Olympic Games could go on without the death of a young athlete disturbing anything, especially not the income that flows from them.

High level sports certainly include an element of risk, and falls are frequent, especially in the sport of luge.

But is it true that youth and inexperience were the only cause of the Georgian athlete’s death? All lugers agree that errors in steering are common, but they insist that going off the track isn’t normal. A track is built in principle to avoid this type of accident. Many of the lugers were worried about this track, saying it was “at the limit of what is dangerous.” As an Australian luger put it, “We aren’t crash test dummies!”

The Olympic organizers finally modified the turn on which the young man died before the opening of the event. Their actions show they were aware of the danger, although they continued to deny it. They also shortened the track, lowering the average speed by 12 mph. But hitting a post at 75 mph is just as fatal as hitting it at 87 mph. It seems absurd that posts can be found on the edge of the track, when there is no system to prevent a sled going off the track.

Due to warm weather, the organizers spent 2.5 million dollars to bring snow to the Olympic site. Their trucks and helicopters made 12,000 round trips!

The show must go on! But the safety of the athletes didn’t get the same attention.