Updated: Wednesday, 05 February 2014 09:57 | By Agence France-Presse

Olympic luge tries to move on from Vancouver tragedy

Four years after the death of Georgia's Nodar Kumaritashvili at Vancouver, Olympic lugers begin their Sochi campaigns Wednesday desperate to move on from the tragedy.


Olympic luge tries to move on from Vancouver tragedy

A portrait of killed Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili is displayed in his home town of Bakuriani, Georgia on February 9, 2011 - by Vano Shlamov

The 21-year-old Kumaritashvili was killed in training, smashing into a steel column, never realising his dream of even getting just one competitive run under his belt.

He was the first athlete to die in Olympic training or competition since 1964 and it sparked a radical rethink of the design of the Sochi track.

It has been slowed down and will feature three uphill sections, putting firm brakes on what had been expected to be speeds of 100mph.

The luge in Sochi seems certain to be dominated by Germany.

In the men's event, Felix Loch, who became the youngest ever luge gold medallist when he won in Vancouver as a 20-year-old, is the favourite to defend his title having also captured back-to-back world titles in 2012 and 2013.

He also took the World Cup in January 2014.

In the women's race, Natalie Geisenberger, who was a bronze medallist in 2010, comes to Sochi fresh from her second straight World Cup win. She also took gold in singles and team relay at the 2013 world and European championships. 

The introduction of a mixed relay has raised eyebrows.

The relay consists of a men's single luge, a women's single and then a doubles run -- which can be mixed or single gender. 

"There have been some pretty heated discussions about the sexual aspects of luge," said International luge federation (FIL) official Harro Esmarch when the discipline was introduced.

"Some people's fantasies have no boundaries. In the past the media have focused in on the sexual aspects and attacked us."

The luge will also feature two of the event's more unlikely competitors in the shape of Shiva Keshavan and Alex Ferlazzo.

This will be India's Keshavan's fifth Olympics although he will have to compete under an independent flag after the Indian Olympic Association was suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"I remember feeling left out at the Nagano Olympics in 1998," he said. "India does not follow winter sports, but suddenly the Jamaican team came up to me and said, 'Hey, man, we’ve got to stick together'."

Australian teenager Ferlazzo, who hails from the tropical Australian city of Townsville, has to practise on a hill using a luge strapped to four wheels rather than steel runners.

And how did Ferlazzo learn his luge, the fastest and most dangerous of the three Olympic sliding sports? After his mother met Australian luge recruitment manager Karen Flynn at a pilates class and was pointed in the right direction, of course.

"It's a long way from North Queensland to Russia, that's for sure. It's very exciting," said the 18-year-old.

"My mum met a retired athlete who used to do the luge through a pilates class and she got me into it."

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