Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death during a practice run on February 12, 2010 has put a spotlight on the dangers inherent with many Olympic sports. It seems that every four years athletes are going faster, jumping higher, and incorporating ambitious tricks – each pushing the laws of physics just a little bit more than previous years. In vying to be the best (and maybe breaking a record), are these competitors at too much risk for catastrophe? Are these athletes pushing the envelope for the sake of an Olympic medal? Is danger an inescapable part of the Olympic Games?
All too often, we read about serious injuries that athletes endure while training and/or competing for a spot in the Olympics Games. They suffer bumps, bruises, traumatic head injuries, fractures and more, but get up and do it again. They never want to give up; the Olympic Games are all about dream fufillment. These atheletes have risk-taking personalities. But questions still remain – in their pursuit of an Olympic Gold Medal, are these athletes overlooking common sense and safety? Are the track designers overlooking safety designs for faster tracks? Is there a lesson to be learned from the luge accident?
Winter Olympic athletes suffer far more serious injuries than Summer Olympic athletes. Several failed to make the Vancouver Games because of injuries, among them U.S. skier who broke a vertebrae in his neck and tore a ligament in his knee when he crashed during a race in Canada, and a half-pipe snowboarder who is recovering from a brain injury and will never compete again. Still, they defend their sports and the Olympics. Even "safer" sports like figuring skating can be dangerous. In 2007, Canadian Jessica Dube was hit in the face by the skate of her partner Bryce Davison. She needed surgery and 80 stitches to repair the damage; the pair is back on the ice and competing in Vancouver. Speed skater, J.R. Celski, says “We know in the back of our minds that injury is possible. But, injury is possible with anything you do in life, so I guess you just have to be confident in what you do.”
There are many factors to be considered in reducing the risk of serious injury or death. Training can have a significant impact on an athlete. An inexperienced athlete is at a much greater risk on a challenging course. Course designs need to be evaluated and tested with the greatest of safety measures in place. Of course, one thing that all athletes can do is wear protective gear, helmets, safety shoes, body suits, etc. Most Winter Games sports require a helmet. Some sports have optional protective wear, such as the Kevlar bodysuit for speed skaters. Celski chose not to wear a protective Kevlar bodysuit under his skin suit just to be a fraction of a second faster. Was it a contributing factor to his injury/accident in which he fell and sliced his thigh to the bone with his right skate, last September? It’s a mistake he says he won’t repeat in Vancouver or anywhere else. “I’d rather go a tenth of a second slower than set myself back this much again,” he said. Celski hopes his injury inspires other athletes to make safety a priority. “I tell everybody that skates (to wear the protective suit),” Celski said. “I can’t change people’s will, but I can tell them that it’s just not worth it.”
Lawsuit Financial hopes that the death of Kumaritashvili becomes a catalyst for a new Olympic focus on athlete safety. It is time to put safety first; not the medal. Because whether it’s soaring faster, flying higher, or mastering the most difficult trick, athletes stand to lose much more than Olympic glory.
We would like to remind all of you safety precautions are the best ways to limit serious injuries or death, especially during the winter months. All states, but Hawaii, have experienced some snowfall this year. Rightfully, some parts of our country may have seen a few flurries, but many states are experiencing uncommon snowfalls. Always take precautions to increase your safety, whether in your own driveway or on the slopes. If you are an inexperienced skier, take a lesson. If you are unfamiliar with the proper protective equipment, ask a professional. Whatever your plans for the duration of this winter season, put safety first. Like the Olympians, you stand much more to lose if you don’t.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.