Whistler sliding track to be studied
The sliding track in Whistler, B.C., remains under the microscope.
The Calgary college SAIT Polytechnic is undertaking a comprehensive look at the track where Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died during a training run the day the 2010 Winter Olympics opened.
An independent safety audit was one of the recommendations of B.C. coroner Tom Pawlowski following his investigation into the crash last year.
A SAIT research group from the Sports and Wellness Engineering Technology department will conduct a three-dimensional scan of the track, trajectory modeling, design and safety audits and a study of in-track incidents.
"What sets this apart is the comprehensive five components," SAIT's Dr. Alex Zahavich said Tuesday. "There have been studies of tracks for individual things that they may have looked at, but never a fully integrated project like this.
"If there's any opportunity to improve safety, recommendations will be put forward for Whistler to act on."
Researchers started collecting data in Whistler a few weeks ago because information needed to be compiled with ice still on the track, he explained. The three-dimensional scan of the 1,450-metre track will done with the help of a global positioning system.
Zahavich has a history in sport science as he worked with Own The Podium's Top Secret project to give Canadian athletes technological advantages at the Games.
SAIT bid for the contract to conduct the study and Whistler Sport Legacies awarded it to them in March. Zahavich expects to present WSL with his team's findings by late October.
Whistler Sport Legacies took over operation of the track in June 2010. The organization hasn't asked SAIT for specific findings, says marketing manager Patricia Lesie, but for a wide-ranging analysis of the venue.
"We've had one winter of sliding knowlege for ourselves and with no incidents over the last winter, using the same start positions as the Olympics," Leslie said. "We don't have a sense there are any particular issues at this time.
"We don't know what the results of the report will be. We're looking forward to the results of the study because it is going to be extremely comprehensive."
Kumaritashvili made a driving error on turn 15 of the course and his sled catapulted him into an exposed metal pole. What followed was an intense debate over what was to blame for his death: the slider's inexperience, unsafe speeds the track produced, or both.
Pawlowski concluded speed and Kumaritashvili's lack of experience were both factors in the death of 21-year-old. He also said safety measures for the Olympic luge track met what were required at the time, but were obviously not good enough to prevent a fatality.
The International Luge Federation's own investigation into the crash concluded driver error was the cause. FIL is aware of SAIT's current study, but is at arm's length from it.
"We don't have anything to do with the study," FIL secretary general Svein Romstad said. "Having said that, if they come up with something I definitely would love for our people to look at it to see if there's anything coming up there that, for some reason, we haven't thought about or missed.
"Our experts have to look at what the outcome is. Anything that is brought to our attention, we'll look at it and see if it can help."
He says FIL conducted its own assessment of the Whistler course in March, with elite Canadian and international lugers starting from various points. After the crash, the men's start line for the Olympic races was lowered to the women's start and no luger has slid from the men's start since.
Improvements in technique
Romstad says he's been approached by several male sliders asking if they can return to the men's start, but he doubts that wish will be granted.
"I don't see it happening," he said. "I think they're perfectly capable of it and the majority of athletes I've spoken to have asked if we can start from the men's start again. There's various reasons we're not prepared to do that."
Improvements in sliding technique, sled and track technology and aerodynamics have athletes sliding faster than ever, with top speeds increasing from 135 km/h to almost 155 km/h in recent years.
"Clearly those speeds are the speeds we do not want to have in our sport," Romstad said. "We've stepped over the boundaries we want this sport to go."
No World Cup luge races were held in Whistler during the 2010-11 season, although there were international bobsleigh and skeleton races there in November. Romstad has said the FIL wants to return for World Cup races next season and to hold the 2013 world championships in Whistler.
"We have various possibilities at what we can do in the long and short term for the Whistler track to be an important park for us," Romstad said.