Ed Hula in Vancouver
There’s no way anybody could speculate that grief, not joy, would be the first emotion to sweep over the Vancouver Olympics.
While I mused last week in my first column from Vancouver about what gripping stories might emerge from the 2010 Olympics, the death of an athlete was not one of them.
Minutes after my column went to print, news came of the crash of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. His death made my thoughts trivial, irrelevant.
Who could have the cold nerve to speculate that tragedy would be a story line from the Games?
Leaders of the International Luge Federation could barely contain themselves as they faced the media -- unaccustomed, unprepared to talk about the tragedy.
The same could be said for IOC President Jacques Rogge, who switched from a red tie to a black one for his pre-Games press conference last Friday. Somber, Rogge and VANOC chief John Furlong could only convey regret at a news conference that ordinarily would have allowed the two men to wax with enthusiasm about the days ahead for Vancouver.
Vancouver responded with grace, making changes to the opening ceremony to include commemorations for Kumaritashvili.
The luge course has been shortened as a result of the high-speed crash. The move is both a safety measure and a psychological move.
Georgia President Mikheil Shaakashvili says a track will be built in Kumaritashvili’s name in his home town. It’s a place I visited three years ago to check out the short-lived bid from Georgia to host the 2014 Winter Games.
Bakuriani is a place of wild beauty in the Caucasus Mountains. It was undeveloped except for a few small hotels and what was then a brand-new ski lift that took 30 minutes to figure out how to get it moving.
Nodar Kumaritashvili willl be buried this week in Bakuriani, his hometown in the Republic of Georgia (ATR)
Formerly the training site for winter athletes from the Soviet Union, Bakuriani could become a new center of winter sport one day. A new track carrying the name of Nodar Kumaritashvili would help that to happen and perhaps create a place where the Winter Games might take place once day.
More importantly, maybe his death on the track will leave another legacy: renewed attention to the safety of athletes.
“No athlete should die because of a sports accident,” said Shaakashvili.
The irrefutable logic of that statement needs to be adopted by the Olympic Movement -- not just unspoken, but as a public credo.
More grim details of the death of are about to emerge when the British Columbia coroner delivers an autopsy and other details of the investigation.
Whether those findings assign blame for the luger’s death to design of the track or pilot error, we can only hope the report will help keep all Olympians safe when they step onto the field of play.
Written by Ed Hula in Vancouver.
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