An Irish organiser of last year's Winter Olympics in Canada was warned about potential problems with the luge run — notably record-shattering speeds — almost a full year before an accident that killed a young competitor, newly-released emails have revealed.
On his final practice run at the Whistler Sliding Centre, the Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili (21) lost control on a curve and was catapulted into the air. He crashed into an unprotected metal pole and died instantly.
The fatal accident cast a pall over the opening ceremony of the Games held later the same day.
With the first anniversary of the accident coming this weekend, the new revelations, contained in emails obtained by the Globe and Mail newspaper and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, are a potential embarrassment to the former chief executive of the Vancouver Olympic organising committee, John Furlong.
Mr Furlong emigrated to Canada from Ireland in the early 1970s.
The email chain was spurred by a letter sent by the International Luge Federation (ILF) 11 months before the start of the Games to the German designers of the luge run, voicing alarm about how fast it was proving to be. A copy of the letter was seen by Mr Furlong who expressed concern to others in the organising committee.
“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,” Mr Furlong wrote in one email made public yesterday.
“An athlete gets badly injured or worse and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing.”
Mr Furlong revealed in a memoir published this month that Kumaritashvili's family received Canadian $150,000 (£95,000) in insurance money after the accident and that when he travelled to a memorial service for the athlete in Georgia he handed over an additional C$25,000 in cash.
The crash was always treated as an accident and nothing more by the British Columbia authorities.
The warning letter from the ILF was written by its president, Josef Fendt. It noted that some riders on the Whistler run had clocked speeds of 155kph (96.3mph), when 135kph had previously been considered normal
“Most of the athletes were able to cope with these extremely high speeds. Nevertheless, overstepping this limit would be an absolute unreasonable demand for the athletes,” he wrote.
The organising committee always said that the luge run was the responsibility of the ILF.