PK FIL, VANOC zum Tod von Nodar Kumaritaschwili und der Fortsetzung der Rodel-Wettbewerbe

(c) VANOC, IOC

WHISTLER, Feb 13 – Comments from FIL President Josef FENDT (GER), FIL Secretary General Svein ROMSTAD (USA) and VANOC Vice President of Sport Tim GAYDA (CAN), at a press conference regarding the death of Georgian slider Nodar KUMARITASHVILI (GEO) and the Olympic Luge competition at the Whistler Media Centre on Saturday morning.

Josef FENDT (GER), FIL president

On the accident:

„First of all ladies and gentleman, I would like to apologise for speaking in German but my English knowledge is not good enough to cover the tragic events.“

„For me personally and for the International Luge Federation, yesterday was the worst day, it was the saddest day and it was the saddest day in the history of Olympic sports and in the history the International Luge Federation. We have been competing since ’64, so for almost 50 years and that was the worst event ever happening – and we have not had a fatal accident in 35 years on artificial tracks.“

„We all, and I personally am very sad and very shocked about the tragic accident, the tragic events. I personally, and also on behalf of the International Luge Federation would like to express my condolences to the family of Mr KUMARITASHVILI and the Georgian association.“

„But I also would like to express my gratitude to VANOC and the IOC for their professional cooperation and good attitude during these very difficult times.“

„Details about the results and the meetings of the technical commission will be covered by our secretary general, Svein ROMSTAD.“

On all the talk about the excessive speeds of the track at The Whistler Sliding Centre:

„It is correct the question was asked if FIL wants the tracks getting faster and faster and it is one of the fastest tracks, but we never said that it is too fast.“

„That doesn’t mean that we want to have tracks in the future that are even faster because we do not want to push our athletes to the limits. Again we are not saying that it is too fast but the track is fast.“

Svein ROMSTAD (USA), FIL secretary general

On the accident and investigation of the accident:

„Please bear with me this is very emotional for me. I want to start by echoing president FENDT’s feelings and extend my deepest condolences to Nodar’s family as well.“

„I want to explain the perceived delay by the FIL in communicating with the press yesterday.“

„This was the result of our inability of investigating the scene of the accident until it was released by the police last night. With that said I want to thank the RCMP for their amazing cooperation. Following their investigation, they shared their findings with the FIL. As for the accident our technical officials studied the tape then walked the track and retraced the event. Based on this they were able to render their opinion as to what happened. The FIL shared their findings in a press release last night and I want to try to elaborate further.“

„The run of Nodar appeared to be routine until curve 15. At that time he came out late of the exit of the curve. This resulted in a late entrance into curve 16, the finish curve. Although he attempted to correct the situation, he shot up into the roof of curve 16. The angle in which he did so resulted in him experiencing a G-force that collapsed his body rendering it difficult to control the sled, which in this case he was not able to do. Once this happened he was literally at the mercy of the sled. At the exit of curve 16 he hit the wall. This resulted in Nodar being catapulted onto the top of the wall resulting in the fatal crash.“

„At this stage I would like to echo what the Republic of Georgia’s Sports Minister stated in his press conference. Nodar was a good athlete. He had 26 runs on the Whistler track. This is a large number of runs for an athlete of his calibre. Nodar participated in five World Cups this year and was ranked 44th in our World Cup standings.“

„Finally I want to state that this is, to our knowledge, the first fatality in luge since December 10, 1975 when an Italian luger suffered fatal injuries in a luge event. As such, I hope you can appreciate our unfamiliarity in dealing with a tragic event like this. As for moving forward, the jury has made the decision to lower the men’s competition start to the current women’s start. The track crew has also overnight raised a wall where the accident happened and in addition to some ice profile changes that was made to the track as well.“

„Also the technical delegates and the jury are currently working with the track management to adjust the Women’s and Doubles starts as a precautionary measure. As soon as a decision has been made on this we will inform you.“

„The bottom line is that the decisions made are to deal with the emotional component of the athletes, to alleviate as best as possible the traumatic experience of this tragic event.“

On consideration given to not sliding or cancelling the entire competition:

„I think all possibilities were discussed in this tragic event. So yes that was one of the discussions.“

On whether changing the start from men’s to women’s is a concession that the track at The Whistler Sliding Centre is too fast:

„I would say that the primary concern we have right now is the emotional aspect of it. If you look upon it, the Nen’s top speed versus the Women’s top speed is only a difference of 10 kilometres per hour, so that is not necessarily a very significant speed but this more I think emotionally the right decision.“

On whether the decision to compete was made by vote of captains and whether any athletes decided not to compete:

„The decision, we tried to follow the rule book of the FIL, so the decision was actually made by the race director, the jury and the technical delegates. Clearly, these individuals spoke to several of the team captains.“

„As far as any athletes not wanting to participate any further in the competition, I am not aware of any. We have had the team captains meetings this morning where we informed the teams of our decision and there was actually not a single question posed questioning that decision.“

Tim GAYDA, (CAN), VANOC vice president of Sport

On the accident:

„Yesterday was by far the toughest day of my life dealing in the sport event management and I think for the whole venue team was a pretty rough day.“

„My heart definitely goes out to the family. To have your son go out to compete at the Olympics and to have this is something difficult to deal with. We’ve always wanted to ensure the safe and fair field of play and we’ve worked diligently with both federations on this track. It started in the early days of the site selection. We walked the centre line with both the president and the secretary general. We worked together on the design, we worked together on the construction and the process of getting athletes on the track was a long one and a safe one to make sure that everyone who went down that track stepped out of each of the starts and really were familiar with that track.“

„So for us, we believe in terms of the things we did as an organising committee working with the international federations we did everything in our power to make that track is as safe as we can.“

„Largely what you are hearing, it is a fast track. There’s no denying that. And this is something when you design a track, it’s largely done with a computer on a train that we deal with and then we work. When we start putting ice on it, how we manage that track, so for us it is quick but we made a lot of measures with the federation to ensure that the athletes going there were confident to get down.“

„We’ve had a great experience the past two years. We’ve put down about 5000 runs on that track. We had a great season last year with our test events for all three disciplines. And had very strong reviews from all the athletes and officials on the track. So we’re quite confident of where we are and largely this is an unprecedented situation and something that we’ve taken very, very seriously. In dealing with that, there’ s a bunch of measures Mr ROMSTAD just reviewed – changes that we’ve made and also where we’re starting from. This is to ensure that the athletes that still have to get on that ice can do so in a positive way. We still want an Olympic competition but we have to be respectful of those athletes that their friend died on that track and that’s why we want to make sure that they can step on there with confidence and get down and have an Olympic competition.“

„For us we are moving forward. It is something that is very difficult for us and our venue team to deal with. It’s very emotional and we appreciate all the cooperation we’ve received from the venue team, from the FIL and from everyone.“

On whether the changed start will apply to Bobsleigh and Luge:

„The issue on how sports are run, for Bobsleigh and Skeleton is managed by the FIBT, which is a totally separate federation and that will be really up the them. We are dealing with this situation now and we will come to that as we start to progress through the Games.“

Svein ROMSTAD (USA) – FIL secretary general

On what it means to change the profile of the ice of the sliding track:

„I’m not a track expert but I’ll try as best I can to possibly explain. In the out-run where the accident occurred, first things we did was to get the walls raised up. The ice profile we were talking about is on both of the edges of the track. What we hope to accomplish is that if an athlete hits that, the ice profile changes will direct him back into the track which is always the goal and the most important thing – just to keep the athlete in the track.“

On whether dropping the Women’s and Doubles‘ starts means dropping them below the first curve:

„Yes it does. As I said in my speech, the jury, the technical delegates and the track management is evaluating it as we speak. By adjusting the start, it means that the women will no longer go from the Women’s start. As far as we can see there are two alternatives: that is going from what we call the lower women’s start at the bottom of the women’s ramp or the junior start. So that is currently being assessed. If yes, for the same emotional reasons and as a precautionary measure we will also reduce the start for the Women’s and Doubles.“

On what is meant by the ‚emotional aspects‘ of the decision:

„I can only re-emphasise what I said earlier in my speech. We have not experienced this in 35 years. We are unfamiliar with how to deal with this. You have a technical component, you have an emotional component. And in our discussions, it became clear that none of our athletes had experienced this. They lost a friend yesterday [voice breaking]. It is emotional for everyone. So that’s a component not dealt with before.“

On whether two training runs from the Women’s start is sufficient for the Men to adapt to the new course:

„The opening of the track conforms to the standard that has been pretty much followed in Olympic sports since 1964.“

„This is very standard of how we proceed in preparation for the Olympic Games. It takes time to construct the track.“

„In this particular case, we have had more access to the track than has been in prior Games.“

Josef FENDT (GER)- president of FIL

On the apparent contradiction in earlier FIL statements regarding a speed limit for The Whistler sliding track, which is rated by athletes as the fastest in the world:

„The speed discussion did not refer to this track. It referred to future tracks. And I would like to emphasise this. You know we just want to avoid future tracks getting any faster. It is correct that we did not expect those speeds on that track, but then after awhile we found out that the track is safe for the athletes. We reacted and decided that the athletes should have more chances to train on runs and we already had World Cup on the runs. We had a lot of training runs already on the track and VANOC made sure of that.“

„The speed limit you are referring to of 137 km/h is not an exact number. It is an approximate number. But we know that all tracks that are set up for 137 -140 km/h are getting faster all the time. We know for example that in St Moritz and Salt Lake City, the tracks get well beyond 140. They went to 144 km/h. What I have said in the past that in the planning of future tracks, we have to make sure that tracks do not go beyond 140 km/h.“

„I never said that this track is unsafe.“

Tim GAYDA (CAN) – VANOC vice president of sport

On whether there should be protection on the pylons lining the track:

„Largely the objective is to keep the athlete in the track. If an athlete exits the track, hay bales or padding, no matter what it is, is not really going to help the situation so the strategies that we have incorporated are really the same ones we do all over the track – is to keep them in the track no matter what.“

On whether access to the track was unduly limited for international athletes before the Games:

„In terms of track access, we worked very closely with FIL and FIBT on the measures that we allow athletes on the track. And largely we have lived up to those obligations and surpassed them. We had two international training weeks for the FIL and we also offered additional training for the smaller nations starting on January 1 leading into the Games. So it is really up to the teams to take advantage of these trainings and, largely, if those number of runs were really the agreed upon number within the federation, asking the organiser to provide that. So we’re quite confident on the number of runs we did provide all of the teams, both starting in 2008 and leading into 2009 and the Games. From a safety perspective we went thoroughly through all that and feel confident about the right number of runs for the teams.“