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Luge officials admit mistakes, sort of.

Officials fix some flaws in Vancouver's luge track.  (Doug Mills, NYT)

Officials fix some flaws in Vancouver's luge track. (Doug Mills, NYT)

Vis-a-vis the luge officials at the Vancouver olympics, I suggest that we pay more attention to what they do than to what they say.

They’re saying that Nomar Kumaritashvili died because of human error, and not because of anything wrong with the luge track.  At the same time, the luge officials have installed a new wall at the end of turn #16 and padded the posts that Kumaritashvili collided with at about 80 mph.

This is one of those incidents where it doesn’t really make sense to say it was either “human error” or “equipment failure,” because it was clearly a mix of both.  Apparently if Kumaritashvili had gone into turn 16 a little lower than he did, he might not have lost control of the sled.  But if the track had been designed differently, the consequences of losing control at the last turn of the world’s fastest luge track would not have been as severe for the athlete.

Many of the best luge athletes in the world have made “errors” on this track and have crashed.  These kind of “human errors” were apparently commonplace and predictable.  Kumaritashvili’s crash was worse, obviously, and dying in a luge crash is a rare event, but if we insist on blaming someone for this death, I’d rather blame the luge officials that were in charge of the track.  Kumaritashvili is dead, and can no longer learn from his mistake.  The luge officials are still alive and they can learn something.  Given their changes to the wall at turn 16 and their decision to start the course lower on the track, it seems they have learned something, even if they don’t want to admit it.

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