But winter comes. "What a mess," Vittorio tells a colleague on his mobile from his mudbound SUV. "I had to calm down the national teams. And Ivo. We risk him collapsing like in a reality TV show. I said I'd give him a heart massage. But no mouth-to-mouth." After a litany of setbacks it would require several more columns to do justice to, they get it built. But then it has to be inspected. Ivo is concerned about Curve 18, and on the fourth test run a rider breaks his arm and shoulder there.
"This is not a problem for experienced athletes," Ivo tells the press. "Every track in the world has its secrets." But to an aghast Udo, he says: "At the moment they're just going to fly off. One gust of wind and they're away."
The approvals committee fails the track. The team rebuild, but fall out. Ivo wants the concrete white, for better visibility. Vittorio thinks it's a waste. "If I ask for white it's because I need it," Ivo says. "It's bullshit," Vittorio snaps. "It's functional," Ivo reiterates. "It's bullshit," Vittorio spits, and storms out.
As final inspection looms, the workers say the ammonia is dangerous, stop work and lock Ivo out. Vittorio threatens to resign if they're not building again in two hours. They're ready minutes before the final inspection, and Kristan Bromley is one of the first down. "Whoah!" is his breathless verdict. "It's fast. Curve 18 is real high pressure."
Still, he's happy. And with the track passed, Vittorio and Ivo are friends again. But watch out for Curve 18.
The track was designed by German engineer Udo Gurgel, who also drew the blueprints for the 1998 Nagano, 2002 Salt Lake and 2006 Turin Olympic Games. This isn't the first time track design and safety have become an Olympic issue.
After numerous athletes crashed in training on the 2006 track, Turin organizers rebuilt portions of it even as some sliding sports officials dismissed concerns. And still, sliders were injured, most notably Samantha Retrosi of the U.S., who was left unconscious after a horrific crash near the bottom of the course.
Even before Friday’s events, the track had gained a reputation as perhaps the most dangerous in the world. “I pray a little in turns 11 and 12 and then breathe again after 13,” said American bobsledder Michelle Rzepka in press conference Thursday, referring to the lower section of the track where the Kumaritashvili crash happened.
Turn 13 is so difficult that it has become known as “the 50-50” " with athletes giving themselves only a 50 percent chance of making it through the curve without crashing.
The Whistler track is the fastest in the world, with lugers hitting speeds of more than 93 miles per hour " six miles per hour faster than the previous world record. What’s more, it is also a technical track, meaning that sliders and bobsledders have to make key driving decisions to avoid crucial mistakes or even crashes.
“Once you hit top speed it gets really technical,” said US pilot Bree Schaaf at the same press conference. “That’s where it gets scary.”
Rzepka says only one other track in the world can compare to Whistler for sheer difficulty: the Altenberg track in Germany. It has gained its reputation because “even the best drivers crash there,” she said.
The same is becoming true at Whistler. Before Kumaritashvili’s accident Friday, the world’s No. 1-ranked luger, Armin Zoeggeler, also crashed.
But Altenberg is a World Cup track, meaning only the most experienced pilots and sliders attempt it. By contrast, the Olympic competition is open to far more athletes " many of whom are relative novices here only for the Olympic experience.
Think what the response of the world would have been if, in the wake of that repugnant official statement blaming 21-year-old luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili for his own death during a practice run, all of the more than 2,500 athletes from 82 countries at the Winter Games had stood together and announced, in polite and respectful tones:
We will not compete in these Olympics until the organizing committee issues a public apology for what they have done to the memory of our fellow athlete. None of us, in any sport, will show up at the venues. You will apologize for what you said about Nodar; you will tell his family you are sorry that you blamed him for dying. Once you have done that, the games can go on. Until you have done it, the television cameras can show pictures of empty ice rinks, empty ski courses, empty luge facilities. You may own the Olympics, but we are the Olympians.
The blame-placing statement, issued by the Olympic organizing committee and the luge international governing body, said that Kumaritashvili's death could not be ascribed to anything that was wrong with the much-criticized luge course.
The fault was his, the statement said -- he did not do a good enough job maneuvering the course. They didn't even wait for a single day to pass before announcing their conclusion. Kumaritashvili, of course, could not respond to what they were saying about him, because he was dead.
What do you think would have happened if all of the Olympic athletes had joined together as one, and in a steadfast and dignified manner stood up to the officials for their monumental insensitivity?
Ya, and it is a part of a pattern of the IOC failing to protect the integrity of the Games.The IOC is overly corporate controlled , did not deal with the doping problems until recently, the site selection is now largely based upon politics, and there is a general lack of transparency and honesty with-in the organization
At the time, John Furlong, the chief executive of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, said that the death was “not something I have prepared for or ever thought I needed to be prepared for.” He has continued to maintain that position, publicly at least.
But e-mails obtained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show that in March 2009, Furlong and the head of the international governing body for luge were concerned about the potential dangers posed by record speeds being generated by athletes on the track.
Furlong’s e-mail came after he read a copy of a letter from the International Luge Federation to the track’s designer in which Josef Fendt, the governing body’s president, expressed “great worry” that athletes would be unable to cope with any future track that exceeded Whistler’s “extremely high speeds.”
In an e-mail to four executives with the organizing committee, Furlong wrote that “imbedded in this note (cryptic as it may be) is a warning that the track is in their view too fast and someone could get badly hurt.”
He continued, “An athlete gets badly injured or worse and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing.”
After noting that he was unsure “where the exit sign or way out is on this,” Furlong concluded that “our legal guys should review at least.”
VANOC had no control over any of that and neither do the owners of ski hills et al.
VANOC would have shut the event down if organizers had had any worries that athlete safety was in jeopardy, Mr. Furlong declared. By the time the Olympics began, he said, VANOC had been assured by FIL officials that all necessary changes to the track had been made. “They are the best experts in the world, and they said it was safe,” he said.
The Whistler track produced speeds nearly 20 kilometres an hour faster than the 135 km/h projected by the track designer.
Meanwhile, FIL officials will return to the Whistler track next month for the first time since the Olympics ended. They intend to conduct yet another comprehensive safety audit of the track, with a view to resuming top-flight competition on the world’s fastest luge facility, despite its tragic history.
The process, known as homologation, will consider whether to move the start back to the top of the 1,400 metre track, where it was before the young Georgian’s fatal accident.
But Mr. Romstad said the luge federation is wary of going all that way – the Whistler track is already at the maximum speed that luge athletes can safely handle. “We’re not ruling out going back to the top,” he said, “but we are going to do what we believe is the right thing.”