Grim beginning in Vancouver

The news that Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died after a horrific crash in training at Whistler on Friday has naturally put a damper on the opening of the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.

This is a terrible way to start the Games, to be sure. And the fact that several crashes have already occurred on the super-fast track is not exactly heartening. Here’s hoping the International Luge Federation, which is reportedly meeting to discuss the situation, can come up with some recommendations pretty damn quick to make the track as safe as possible for all racers.

And Canada’s vaunted “home field advantage” in this and other high-speed ice-track sports should be seen now in its true light: as counter to the spirit of real competition. The podium isn’t worth “owning” if it comes at a deadly cost.

It’s tempting to see a grim beginning as a portend, that somehow bodes ill for the entirety of the Games. After all, Kumaritashvili’s family, friends and the whole community that has sprung up in Vancouver and Whistler, especially the athletes, will be affected powerfully by his tragic death.

But no elite athlete goes into the Games, especially in a high-risk sport, without considering the terrible risks involved. And no elite athlete would ever want to take away from the achievements of his fellow Olympians, no matter how awful the circumstances.

Kumaritashvili’s death does indeed cast a pall over the opening of the Games, and his name will rightly be remembered in association with Vancouver 2010. Nothing can change that now. But my guess is that his fellow athletes will compete that much harder in his memory, and their achievements should be seen as the true reflection of everything he gave to his sport.

What starts badly need not end badly. We must mourn Nodar Kumaritashvili, but we should not fail to celebrate what the Games are meant to represent: the unifying power of sport, and the glory of human endeavour.

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