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Safety audit should shake sliding centre’s stigma

Source: The Whistler Question

 Facilities constructed for Olympic competition all face challenges. But the Whistler Sliding Centre has been faced with a unique challenge since Day 1 of the 2010 Games in that it will always be remembered for Nodar Kumaritashvili’s tragic death, and therefore has a stigma attached to it that has been difficult to shake.

However, we’d like to think that the findings of the track’s safety audit — a first-of-its-kind study compiled by Calgary’s Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and released on Monday (Dec. 3) — is a step in the direction to shed the label of being “deadly.”

While the report didn’t issue a perfect score — making 40 recommendations to track operator Whistler Sport Legacies and the two sliding sport federations — it also didn’t find anything egregiously unsafe about the track, or incompetence when it came to the design and construction of the facility.

“There was evidence in the design, construction and operation of the track to minimize unreasonable risk based on the guidance in the Federations’ regulations and the inherent level of risk in the sport,” states the report in its list of conclusions.

But now that the track is deemed safe, the same media that have painted it as dangerous aren’t interested in telling that part of the story.

As of Wednesday afternoon (Dec. 5), your two community newspapers here in the resort were the only publications or news outlets we could find that had reported on the audit’s release.

The CBC, which tried so hard to pin blame on John Furlong and the rest of VANOC in an extremely slanted Fifth Estate piece last year, was strangely silent after the audit came out Monday. The public broadcaster was also quick to report back in September that the audit was forthcoming, and again touted its conspiracy theory that VANOC knew the track was perilous all along. But now that the report is out, it has nothing to say?

We think one of the key recommendations made in the audit was one directed at the sport federations — calling on them to establish criteria for when athletes are skilled enough to take runs on a particular track. That suggestion is for all sliding centres, not just Whistler’s.

And it also speaks to the International Luge Federation (FIL) and B.C. Coroner’s findings in investigating the Georgian luger’s fatal accident. FIL citing driver error in the hours following Kumaritashvili’s death certainly came across as insensitive, but it was backed up by the coroner’s report, which stated that his inexperience played a factor in the accident. The audit’s conclusions seem to suggest the same.

There’s not a single shred of disrespect for Kumaritashvili here — he will forever hold a place in the hearts of Whistlerites, and there’s really not enough that can be done to honour his memory. But perhaps the 2010 Games just weren’t the appropriate time for him to compete. Perhaps he’d be flying the Georgian flag in Sochi next winter as an experienced slider had the recommended criteria system already been established.

We commend WSL for committing to implement all of the recommendations directed its way, and think it has done a swell job making safety a focus since taking over the facility from VANOC. Anyone who’s completed a public skeleton or bobsleigh ride down the track can attest that a safety-first mentality is stressed. And, if you ask the world’s top sliding athletes, many will tell you Whistler has the best and most dedicated track crew among facilities of its kind.

We hope that continued dedication earns the Whistler Sliding Centre the reputation it deserves, not the one that is viewed through the lens of a single tragedy.