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  • Safety Paramount as Competition Opens at Olympic Sliding Center


    (ATR) Lugers took to the ice at the Lillehammer Olympic Sliding Center, navigating the 16-curve track at speeds approaching 120 Kph on a sunny and frosty morning in Hunderfossen.

    French luger Adrien Maitre around the final curve. (ATR)
    Everything seemed to go smoothly from an organizational and logistical standpoint at the men's single luge competition. Competitors were satisfied with track conditions as temperatures dipped to minus 13 Celsius.

    “It was all organized great with all of the volunteers here and the ice conditions were just unbelievable all week,” said Canadian bronze medalist Reid Watts.

    British luger Lucas Gebauer-Barrett added: “The track is actually beautiful – the best I’ve ever seen it. The profiles are lovely, the ice is hard, it’s quick, fun and it’s been a blast sliding here.”

    Two crashes occurred, one involving Romanian Theodor Andrei Turea, who flipped his sled exiting tricky curve 13. He walked off, received stitches on his chin and was taken to a Lillehammer hospital for precautionary measures. Bulgarian Ayduan Rizov also crashed, but was un-injured.

    German Paul-Lukas Heider celebrates. (ATR)
    Latvian Kristers Aparjods, 17, was the class of the field, winning the gold medal by a commanding 0.65 seconds ahead of German Paul-Lukas Heider. Watts moved up from fifth place after run one to a bronze medal. A relatively small field of 22 lugers competed in the two-heat race.

    Venue and track manager Jan Oddvar Tangen discussed the safety protocol in place for the Winter YOG, noting that procedures are similar to World Cup events.

    “For this Olympics, we have a medical staff here of four people – it’s two doctors and one doctor is always sitting beside the speaker and internal television to see what happens with the athletes,” Tangen explained.

    “If an athlete crashes, he will quickly leave the medical room and go outside to the track,” he said. “The two others in the medical room can also come out to take care of injured people, but it’s usually injured backs or injured shoulders.”

    “We have one ambulance here during competition and if necessary we can bring more from the hospital,” said the Norwegian venue manager.

    Luge medalists on the podium (ATR)
    Athletes were afforded six training runs over two days prior to the Feb. 14 competition. Most lugers said they were confident running the track, which was also the venue for the 1994 Winter Olympics, albeit from a lower start.

    “I think it’s basically the same as every other track and World Cup or world championships,” Gebauer-Barrett said of safety procedures in Lillehammer. “Everybody is always super on-point and looking out for you.”

    “There’s definitely a lot more security,” added U.S. luger Justin Taylor, comparing the YOG to other competitions.

    IOC president Thomas Bach arrived at the sliding venue for the second and final run, greeting and cheering on lugers in the finish area.

    “Great event and you can feel the Olympic spirit with the young athletes,” Bach told Around the Rings.

    Bach cheers on German luger in finish area. (ATR)
    Energetic and enthusiastic fans and teams – especially the Germans and Latvians – braved the elements vociferously urging on their medal-winning sliders during the two-hour competition.

    Visitors to the event were able to to warm-up fireside, inside stylish yurts positioned along the track.

    Tangen positively assessed the opening day of action at the Lillehammer Sliding Center.

    “I think our team did a terrific job for the whole event – from the track crew to the people behind the scenes,” he said.

    “There was lots of sportsmanship and good chaos at the finish area,” Tangen said about the lugers and exciting finish to the race.

    Luge continues Monday in Hunderfossen with ladies and doubles events.

    Honoring Nodar

    Georgian Giorgi Shavreshiani proudly waved his nation’s flag honoring Nodar Kumaritashvili, his countryman who died in a training run crash at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

    Shavreshiani is one of the numerous change-makers serving the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympics.

    Georgian change-maker Giorgi Shavreshiani (ATR)
    He said his thoughts are still with Nodar.

    “It’s in memory of him and for my country,” Shavreshiani said of waving the Georgian flag. “He will always be in our thoughts.

    “It’s been more than five years since its happened and It was really a big tragedy for us, for all Georgia, the Olympic Committee and for all people

    Shavreshiani, who was also team leader of volunteers at the 2015 Youth Olympic Festival in Tblisi.

    He cheered on his countryman Lasha Peradze in Sunday’s race. Peradze became the first Georgian slider to compete in an Olympic competition since Vancouver 2010.

    As the youngest competitor in the field at age 15, Peradze finished a respectable 11th out of 22 competitors.

    “Hopefully, in the future we will have better and better results and we will improve winter sports in our country,” Shavreshiani said.

    Written by Brian Pinelli in Lillehammer, Norway.

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