Luger's Olympic death needs deeper probe: father

The father of a Georgian luger killed at the 2010 Olympics is demanding further investigation into his son's death after learning the head of VANOC had raised concerns about the track's safety.

Federal minister defends VANOC's handling of concerns about track's safety

David Kumaritashvili, father of Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luger killed in a practice run at the Olympics, cries at his son's funeral in Bakuriani, Georgia, on Feb. 20, 2010. ((Shakh Aivazov/Associated Press))

The father of a Georgian luger killed at the 2010 Winter Games is demanding further investigation into his son's death after learning the Vancouver Olympics organizing committee (VANOC) had raised concerns about the track's safety.

"I think [the organizers] knew well in advance of the Games about the track. That they shouldn't allow competition on the track, so why did they give permission to race?" David Kumaritashvili told CBC's Israel Cinman on Tuesday, in an interview translated from Russian.

"Why didn't they warn, for example, the Georgian racing federation and other federations, not to race on this track … this dangerous and deadly track," he said from his home in Georgia.

Nodar Kumaritashvili died during a training run the day of the Winter Games opening ceremony in Whistler, B.C. The 21-year-old lost control of his sled at an estimated 145 km/h, flew off the track and slammed into a metal pillar.

Luge track safety questioned in emails

An International Luge Federation (FIL) report found his death was an unforeseeable accident, but internal emails obtained by the CBC through British Columbia's Access to Information Act suggest Olympic organizers knew the track might be dangerous.

In this image from video provided by the IOC Media Broadcast, Nodar Kumaritashvili is shown crashing over a wall and toward an exposed pillar during a training run at the Olympic Sliding Centre in Whistler, B.C., on Feb. 12, 2010. ((IOC Media Broadcast/Associated Press))

VANOC had been copied on a March 2009 memo that the FIL sent to the track's designer. The federation said that speeds on the track were 20 km/h faster than expected.

The revelation apparently also worried VANOC head John Furlong, who wrote an internal email to senior staff.

In an email sent after receiving a copy of the letter, Furlong wrote: "Embedded 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. An athlete gets badly injured or worse, and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing."

Asked on CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon whether VANOC might "have blood on their hands for not taking the precautions," federal Minister of State for Sport Gary Lunn strongly defended Furlong and his committee's actions.

"They made the changes to the track," he said. "They put more sleds down. They [made] more changes. You know, that's a normal course of practice for any new track. I mean, there was more accidents on the Salt Lake [Olympic] track. This was a very tragic, tragic accident."

He said that in terms of track safety, the committee did "everything that [was] asked of them — not once, but multiple times."

David Kumaritashvili told CBC News that "the family thinks that someone needs to find out who is responsible."

Italy's Armin Zoeggler goes past the corner where a wall was added after Kumaritashvili's fatal crash. ((Jim Young/Reuters))

"I know that my son is not responsible for his death; the track is responsible," he said. "I want someone to find out who is responsible."

The B.C. Coroners Service investigated Kumaritashvili's death, examining numerous factors related to the athlete, his sled, the track condition and design, training and preparation, and the circumstances surrounding the fateful training run.

Coroner Tom Pawlowski's report, released in early October, concluded Kumaritashvili died from multiple blunt force injuries, but blamed the accident on several factors, including the speed of the track and Kumaritashvili's inexperience.

CBC reporter Bob McKeown, who is investigating the luge track death for The Fifth Estate in a program to air Friday at 9 p.m., stressed in an interview on CBC News Network on Tuesday that a coroner does not have the authority to assess blame or responsibility.

"To say the coroner's report resolves this is simply not true," he said. " The coroner can order an inquest, and I guess that's a possibility at this point."

Emails leaked to media

On Monday, Furlong told CBC News that he wrote the email because he wanted to ensure organizers were doing everything possible to confirm the track's safety.

"My concern was, 'Are we doing everything we need to do?' and when I spoke with our team, spoke with the sport, spoke with everybody involved, the feeling was we were doing exactly what our responsibilities demanded we do," Furlong said.

Meanwhile, new leaked emails reveal that Renée Smith-Valade, VANOC's vice-president of communications, pre-emptively leaked the Furlong emails to the Globe and Mail and CTV, VANOC's former 2010 Olympic broadcast partner, just as CBC News was about to break the story about track safety concerns.

In the emails, Smith-Valade says there needed to be "a more balanced view in the public eye and protect VANOC's reputation."

Smith-Valade defended the decision in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. She repeated she did it as a way to protect Furlong and VANOC's reputation, and she didn't put any restrictions on how the stories should be written.