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  • Emails Suggest VANOC Knew of Course Risk


    02/08/11

    (ATR) Emails surface showing VANOC knew speedy luge course was dangerous prior to the Games’ start.
    Emails showed that John Furlong was aware of the dangers of Vancouver’s luge track, prior to the Games. (Getty Images)

    In his memoir “Patriot Hearts”, VANOC CEO John Furlong repeated the sentiment he expressed on opening day of the Vancouver Games when Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed and died.

    "We had confronted make-believe plane crashes, riots, major injuries, mustard gas -- you name it and we had prepared for it. But never in our wildest dreams did we imagine the death of an athlete on opening day,” according to Furlong.

    But a CBC investigation into the tragedy found Furlong was worried 11 months earlier about safety at the $106 million Whistler Sliding Centre. “An athlete gets badly injured, or worse, and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing,” he wrote in a March 25, 2009 email.

    Furlong was reacting to correspondence between the International Luge Federation (FIL) and track designer Udo Gurgel that he believed was to ensure the Sochi track would be slower than Vancouver’s. Furlong claimed in a Feb. 7 media conference call that VANOC relied on FIL and the bobsleigh federation, FIBT, making all modifications ordered.
    Nodar Kumaritashvili died after a crash while taking a practice run on the luge course the day of the opening ceremony. (Getty Images)

    “We had this track and this one sport, not both of them, was saying it was faster than they wanted,” said Furlong, who was kicking off his book tour in Toronto. “I wanted to make sure any obligation that we had we were carrying it out properly and professionally and doing what was necessary. And we were.”

    “There is absolutely no possibility that anybody on our team would have ever allowed an athlete to go onto any venue, never mind this one, any venue if we thought the right safety standards hadn't been achieved.”

    In his book, Furlong said Kumaritashvili’s family was to receive a $150,000 insurance payout.
    Nodar Kumaritashvili’s father David (right), seen with Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, asked why competition was allowed to take place on a dangerous luge track. (Getty Images)

    The Sept. 16 B.C. Coroners Service report, which ruled the death accidental, was published Oct. 4. The documents also show the coroners’ inquest committee recommended less than a month after the luger’s death against convening a court-style hearing and that stance never changed.

    "The facts of the case are known. The people involved were very cooperative. We wouldn't be able to hold an inquest before the luge season starts again."

    The revelations raised the ire of the vice-president of the Georgian Olympic Committee.

    “This new information is a huge scandal,” Vakhtang Gegelia told AFP.

    Kumaritashvili’s father David wondered why the competition was allowed to go ahead if they knew the track was dangerous.

    “Does it mean that my boy was condemned to death?”

    With reporting in Vancouver from Bob Mackin in Vancouver.

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