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Olympic chiefs insist track safe as luger buried

Games chiefs have again defended the Olympic luge track amid lingering anger over the death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was buried in his native Georgia on Saturday.

The family of the 21-year-old and Georgian officials expressed concerns over the Whistler Sliding Centre track in the wake of his horrific death amid a ruling that it was down to human error.

Standing outside the family home in Bakuriani after the funeral, Kumaritashvili's father David said his son was not to blame.

"What can I say? Our family is devastated. But what I do know is that this was not caused by a mistake by Nodar," he said.

Kumaritashvili's coach and uncle, Felix, said he also had no doubt the track was responsible.

"What I can say for sure, and the whole luge community around the globe is saying the same thing, is that if the track's fence had been higher, Nodar would be with us today," he said.

Tim Gayda, vice president of sport for Vancouver Olympics organising committee VANOC, told reporters that safety was the top priority and the track was built with the cooperation of the international luge and bobsleigh federations.

"To make it 100 percent safe you would need to put the track in a tube and that's really not what this sport is about," he said.

"They (International Luge Federation) did a full investigation into the accident and as a precautionary measure they asked us to do a number of tasks, one was to put in a wall.

"All to ensure that this would never, ever happen again," he added.

He said he was unaware of any legal action pending and when asked whether making changes to the track organisers would open themselves to a lawsuit, he said the priority was not to appease laywers.

IOC executive director for the Olympic Games Gilbert Felli defended the approach taken after the accident.

He said first of all an assessment had to be made as to whether competition could continue before further investigations could be launched.

Kumaritashvili died during a training run after he lost control of his sled and was flung off the track before smashing into a metal pillar.

Organisers said the accident was human error and there was no indication of track deficiencies, but the track was nonetheless altered to slow it down and raise the borders around it.

The International Luge Federation (FIL) announced on Thursday that it would investigate Kumaritashvili's death further and other accidents at the track, promising to report by the end of March.

The lightning-fast track has witnessed other spectacular crashes during the Games and US media have reported that an Olympic luge athlete injured in a crash at the sliding centre warned Canadian officials over safety in November.

Meanwhile, Gayde also defended the downhill skiing course at Whistler, insisting it was designed in close cooperation with the International Ski Federation (FIS).

A series of crashes marred the women's downhill won by American Lindsey Vonn and the FIS made changes to the final jump for the super-combined event.

Gayde said adjustments had also been made to the cross-country course after Slovenian skier Petra Majdic, eventual bronze medallist, was injured just before the start, but said a protest had been rejected by a jury.


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