Belfast Telegraph

Olympic tragedy put in shade by cash

By James Lawton

In the small hours of yesterday morning these 21st Winter Olympics, bedevilled by fog on the mountains and what some are saying is a certain moral vacuum at their heart, held their breath for what seemed like a considerable slice of eternity.



The reality was that the second greatest crisis after the death of 21-year-old Nodar Kumaritashvili last Friday was over almost before it began.

However, in the split seconds of potential disaster the debt owed to the nerve and the experience of 29-year-old Swiss luger Stefan Hoehener was incalculable.

Unlike the fallen young Georgian, Hoehener had the experience to rescue himself from the worst possibilities of a crash at speed reduced by the decision to shorten the course in the wake of the tragedy — but still heading towards the 90mph mark.

The Swiss was all but detached from his sled as he swept down towards the curve 16 where Kumaritsashvili died in the horror that was instantly transmitted around the world.

As the crowd gasped Hoehener reached out to regain possession of his sled and remove the risk of collision on the final curves.

This near-tragic incident has led to a questioning of the rules.

The head of the American luge team, Ron Rossi, has been especially cutting, stating a “track like this demanded the weaker athletes get more time”.

Adding to the force of Rossi's complaints is his belief that a member of his team, Meg Sweeny, could so easily have shared Kumaritashvili's fate. The day before the Georgian died, Sweeney had a near identical crash after ‘double-looping’ the 16th curve.

Rossi added: “If you were already concerned about it and you already raised the wall, why didn't you keep going?

“And why didn't you protect the (metal) posts at the chance that maybe something could happen? I'm not the one to answer but that's the kind of question that needs to be asked.”

In the framing of it there may also be a collision with a point made by the Canadian Ian Cockerline, who did not suppress a troubled thought as, in the heat of the greatest competition of his life, he tried to make sense of something that will always scar the memory of the 21st Olympic Games.

“You know,” he reflected, “there's money invested. It's really what it comes down to at the end of the day, I suspect.”

There could, you have to believe, be no bleaker epitaph for a fallen Olympian.

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