White Rock bobsledder Mike McCorkell, who is in Whistler as a volunteer forerunner at the Olympic sliding centre, said the death last Friday of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili came as a “complete, total shock.”
McCorkell and his fellow forerunners – who test the bobsled/luge track in advance of competition – did not see Kumaritashvili’s crash in person, which occurred on a training run, but said it’s impossible not to grieve for the fallen 21-year-old athlete from the tiny, former Soviet Republic of Georgia.
“It’s slowly getting better here now, but you’re reminded of it every day, everywhere you go,” McCorkell said Monday from the volunteer barracks just across the street from Whistler village.
“There are big, white Olympic rings in the village, and people have sort of turned it into a memorial, leaving flowers and notes and things like that.”
On Friday, Kumaritashvili flew off the track at turn 16 – the final corner – and smashed into a metal column, leaving him unconscious and bleeding. On-side resuscitation failed, and he was transported to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. A moment of silence was held during Friday night’s opening ceremony at B.C. Place.
Since the crash, the track at the Whistler Sliding Centre has been criticized for being too fast and too difficult.
McCorkell has been in Whistler since the beginning of the month, and has been down the track in a four-man bobsled eight times since Feb. 1.
Two of those runs ended in crashes – nobody was hurt – but he insists the track itself should not shoulder all the blame.
“We saw the replay after, and he was just way too high coming out of the turn, and it looked like he just tried to fix it, but over-corrected and that caused him to crash,” McCorkell surmised.
“It was just a freak thing, a freak accident. It’s just so unfortunate.”
McCorkell also went down the track last fall, during a selection camp.
“The track is faster now than it was then,” he said. “It’s been smoothed out a lot.”
In an effort to curtail the speed of the male lugers – which exceed 120 km/h – Olympic officials have moved the men’s starting position to the women’s starting line, thus shortening the course.
“We were talking to some of the Canadian lugers, and none of them thought it was too dangerous before the accident,” McCorkell said. “It’s really put the track into a bad light – that it’s too dangerous.
“Yes, it’s very fast, and sometimes you do crash, but more often than not, you come out of it fine. I’ve never been scared of it.”