Sochi Luge Track to Be Slower than Vancouver Track

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As preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia continue to progress, a lot of attention is being paid to the bobsled, luge and skeleton track. After the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in training just prior to the 2012 Olympics in Vancouver, Olympic planners are going against the “bigger, faster, more spectacular” trend that seems to make each Olympics progressively more dangerous. As Kumaritashvili’s death indicated, the Vancouver organizers went one step to far, and it’s time for a drawdown.

The official report on the Vancouver accident dictated that future tracks have a maximum speed of 140 kilometers per hour, in contrast to the blazing-fast 154 km/h seen at the Vancouver Whistler track. Kumaritashvili was going an estimated 144 km/h at the moment when he lost control of his sled and was thrown into a nearby metal support.

But since the Vancouver track was designed for speeds of around 138 km/h, it’s clear that that track designers need to aim low and expect that Olympic competitors will manage to exceed the track specifications. Thus, the Sochi track is being designed to have speeds topping out at between 130 and 135 km/h.

Most followers of the sport of luge agree that this is the right move. Safety should always be the number one factor, and the fact is that, on TV, speeds of 150 km/h look no more impressive than speeds of 130 km/h. In fact, the lower speed may even be better on television, as it allows each camera shot to be held for a split second longer, giving viewers a slightly better sense of the maneuvering that lugers must do.

The Sochi course, which has been in progress since long before the Vancouver games and the Kumaritashvili disaster, was designed by the German engineer Udo Gurgel, who also designed the course in Whistler. With new adjustments to the design, the course is now set to have at least two uphill segments of track, which will help keep the lugers at manageable speeds.

To ensure that the Sochi track is safe, organizers will run simulations of all potential scenarios to make sure that no one will be hurt.

If things continue to go well, the Sochi track should avoid the types of criticisms that were leveled against the Vancouver track since long before the Olympics got underway. Even before the crash, there were rumblings across the luging and skeleton communities about the course being too fast. The Olympic Committee is determined not to make the same mistake twice.

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