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Track safer after Nodar Kumaritashvili death, but lugers unhappy

Five elite lugers said Saturday that they were OK with competing the day after Nodar Kumaritashvili's death. But they don't like using the women's start, though it made the track safer. Their comments show how deeply danger is sewn into the fabric of the Winter Olympics.

Erin Hamlin of the United States gets ready to start a women's singles luge training run at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Saturday, Feb. 13.

Charlie Krupa/AP

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At the Whistler luge track Saturday, one day after Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a training crash, the complaints from athletes were more about new safety measures than the decision to begin racing again.

Five sliders – an American, three Canadians, and an Austrian – all respected the International Luge Federation’s (FIL) decision to begin tonight’s men’s event from the womens' start. But none was happy about it.

Moving the race to the womens' start – which cuts top speeds at the world’s fastest track by about six miles per hour – was just one of the security precautions taken by FIL.

It also added a makeshift wooden wall above the exit at turn 16 – the place where Kumaritashvili was thrown from the track and hit a metal pole – and changed the grade of the ice in turn 16 to make it less severe.

But sliders talked mostly about the new start. “It’s significantly slower, significantly easier, and significantly safer,” said American luger Tony Benshoof, who finished fourth in Turin. “But personally, I’d like to go from the top.”

Like his four colleagues, Benshoof was reluctantly supportive of FIL, knowing that “luge is in a tough spot.” But his desire to push the envelope, even now, shows the degree to which danger is sewn into the fabric of winter sports.

The world catches a glimpse of it only every four years – and the glimpse can sometimes be shocking. For winter athletes, however, danger is a part of their daily existence, and the lugers’ willingness to get back to the track Saturday illustrates how they manage to cope with the perpetual prospect of injury or worse.

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