WHISTLER (Reuters) - The full force of the Whistler sliding track was unleashed on Monday for the first time since Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a crash.
Sliders training for Thursday and Friday’s skeleton competition hurtled down the full 1,450 meters course, reaching speeds of 143kmh going into Corner 16 where Kumaritashvili went out of control and was catapulted into a steel pillar on Friday.
“I’ve had runs up there where I finished looking like I’d been attacked by a cougar,” Canada’s Michelle Kelly told reporters. “The whole course is challenging, but that’s what I like about it.”
Britain’s Shelley Rudman, silver medalist in Turin four years ago and main rival to Canada’s speed queen Mellisa Hollingsworth here, is undaunted by tackling all 16 corners.
”The IOC and VANOC have done all they can to make it a safe environment,“ she told Reuters. ”There are car accidents every day but does that mean I won’t get in my car any more?
“I don’t feel that it’s dangerous but if you are not completely on the ball it can catch you out. What happened was tragic and I was very upset and everybody was very sad. But we’re here now and everybody got down okay today.”
The Whistler track, acknowledged as the fastest in the world, has been shackled since the fatal accident.
A lower start was used for Sunday’s men’s luge and this week’s medal chasers in the women’s and doubles luge go off from the junior start -- a decision that has attracted scorn from Germany’s top women.
However skeleton and bobsleigh involve running starts which means a return to the top of the track.
”Frankly, luge has nothing to do with bobsleigh and skeleton,“ International Bobsleigh Federation (FITB) spokesman Don Krone told reporters on Monday. ”The sports are dramatically different. Bizarre things can happen in sport at any time.
”It’s a dangerous sport, don’t forget that. People travel at incredible speeds but athletes I’ve spoken to seem more nervous because it’s the Olympics than about the track.
“For the most part they relish the chance to compete here.”
Hollingsworth, who once said she feared she would die on Whistler’s track, was quickest in both women’s training runs while fellow Canadian Jon Montgomery set the pace in the men‘s.
Editing by Miles Evans