What the Luger's Death Says About the Olympics

Is it about winning, above all?

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After Nodar Kumaritashvili's deadly crash, Canadian and IOC officials have stated that "human error" caused the Georgian luge racer's death. But an in-depth Wall Street Journal article suggests factors outside of the spirit of competition were at play. These factors include Canada limiting access to the luge track--presumably to gain a home-field advantage--and Vancouver officials pushing for a faster track to bring in revenue after the Games ended.

The tragedy and subsequent fallout has led to a slew of commentary on the larger question of what the Olympics is actually about. Is it about bringing countries together to celebrate the tradition of athletic competition? Or is "faster, higher, stronger" simply a fancy euphemism for winning?

  • Olympic Ideal is Tarnished "We can only assume, in legal parlance, this was done to insure Canadian medals and give them an unfair advantage over the world," fumes The Huffington Post's Ed Berliner. While Canada earns the brunt of Berliner's disenchanted ire, he argues there's enough blame to go around:
There is blood on the hands of the International Olympic Committee. On the hands of someone who decided a track this fast would give Canadian competitors an edge because they could practice on it much more often than those from other parts of the world. And on the hands of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee for going along with this insane and now proven deadly idea to emerge with a few more pieces of gold and silver.
  • Anti-Olympics and Anti-Canada Majikthise's Lindsay Beyerstein blames the Canadian government for reducing the Olympics to a race for the most medals. "Under heavy pressure from the federal government, Canadian Olympic organizers disgraced the entire country by allowing the home team to monopolize the luge run," she harangues. "Medals are great, but putting guests at risk for the sake of a competitive edge is the absolute antithesis of everything Canada is supposed to stand for."
  • Olympics Always About Finishing First "Even at its most noble, the Olympics (as any competitor could tell you) is about the pursuit not of idealism but of naked individualism," writes The Times's Matthew Syed, whose tone is more sad than outraged. "The Olympics have never expressed an ethical imperative, only ever a selfish one," he asserts. "The Games are, to put it bluntly, implacably amoral and quintessentially Darwinian."
  • No, It Was an Accident "Amidst the shock at the death of a young athlete, the fact has been lost that in the hands -- and feet -- of masters, luge is relatively safe," argues Sports Illustrated's David Epstein in a column for CNN. Comparing luge to mainstream sports like football and boxing, Epstein says the conspiracy theories surrounding Kumaritashvili's crash ring hollow. "This was a terrible, terrible, freak accident," he concludes.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.