Olympian competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili (representing Georgia) died yesterday during a practice luge run before his first big race today. He was 21 years old.
He was approaching the finish line and came out of his lane at an immense speed of 90 miles per hour and flew into a metal pole that killed him instantly.
Luging is one of the world's most dangerous sports and there are many more. Others are not always done for competition but for the thrill - activities like bungee jumping, para sailing, base jumping and skydiving also have the potential for death (as one joke goes "parachute for sale, never opened, only used once") but people do them anyway - in fact, people pay a lot of money to do so.
With regard to Olympic sports, people are now calling out for modified regulations and for speeds to be slowed down, not only in luge competitions but skeleton races, bobsledding and more. Already, starting speeds for luge will be slower in these Olympics due to the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili and the races will start further down the tracks than previously planned. Metal poles are being padded.
Some athletes dread the notion of making extreme sports 'safer'. The enjoy the risks and believe that the higher the risk, the bigger the thrill of the win. They know what they are getting into and deem the risks acceptable. Others believe that this horrific incident is enough to demand change.
(There are other less extreme activities like cheer leading and basketball that actually cause more injuries, including serious ones but don't usually cause death.)
Worries have now increased about the difficulties of these luge routes in Vancouver (worries that were expressed before the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili) and the lack of practice many competitors have had on these routes.
The last Olympic luge death before this tragedy was in 1975.
Our deepest sympathies to the family, friends and fans of Nodar Kumaritashvili.
Should these kinds of competitive sports and activities be more regulated and forced to be less risky? Should more padding and protection be mandated and speeds be lowered? Or should participants be allowed to risk death due to the extreme nature of the sport?