WHISTLER, British Columbia — Olympic luge events will start farther down the track than originally planned, officials said Saturday, a decision they made with the "emotional component" of athletes in mind following the death of a Georgian competitor.
They reiterated that the lightning-fast track was safe for competition, and Olympic officials said they were "completely satisfied" with the adjustments.
"We never said it is too fast," International Luge Federation president Josef Fendt said.
An extra session of men's training, as well as all four runs of the men's event — two on Saturday, two on Sunday — will begin from the women's start ramp. Meanwhile, the women's and doubles entrants in the Olympic field will now start even lower, at the junior start position, between the fifth and sixth curves.
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It means speeds in all luge events will be a bit slower at the Whistler Sliding Track, where 21-year-old Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed and died in a training run on Friday after his body flew over the track wall and smashed into a steel pole at nearly 90 mph.
The decision to change the start's location seemed to have the desired effect during men's training on Saturday, the first session on the track after Kumaritashvili's terrifying crash. None of the 36 sliders, all of whom wore black tape on the left sides of their helmets in tribute to Kumaritashvili, broke 90 mph after speeds routinely surpassed 95 mph earlier in the week.
Russia's Albert Demtschenko was clocked at 88.1 mph after topping at 94.6 mph in his fifth practice run.
Germany's Felix Loch was fastest in training at 89.2 mph — well off his track record of 95.68 set during a World Cup event last year.
Other changes were made overnight, including raising the wall at Curve 16, the area where Kumaritashvili crashed; some modifications were also made to the surface of the ice itself. During the training session Saturday morning, workers were seen strapping padding to the steel poles along the finish curve.
"We're confident it will be a successful competition," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. "We're totally convinced the sliding center is safe."
Kumaritashvili's teammate, Levan Gureshidze, did not train on Saturday, skipping both runs. He was at the track, wearing a black armband, and there was no official word on why he did not slide or if he planned to race when the men's competition opened later Saturday.
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge planned to attend Saturday's competition, which was certain to have a somber atmosphere. Someone placed a small bouquet of yellow flowers near the bottom of the pole that Kumaritashvili struck. A man was seen kneeling near the pole, sobbing as the morning training session ended.
Kumaritashvili's death was believed to be the first on a sanctioned luge track since December 1975, the federation said.
From the men's luge start, which won't be used going forward during these Olympics, Kumaritashvili crashed four times in 16 tries.