Olympic games becoming too dangerous

Published Feb 19, 2014 at 6:50 am (Updated Feb 18, 2014 at 10:04 am)

When the first official Winter Olympic Games were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924, the events were bobsleigh, curling, military patrol, ice hockey, Nordic skiing (consisting of cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping), figure skating and speed skating.

During those inaugural Olympics, the gold medalist in the Men’s 500m event was Charles Jewtraw from the United States, with a time of 44 seconds even. The gold medalist for the same event in Sochi was Jan Smeekens of the Netherlands, with a time of 34.59 seconds. Taking 39th place with a time of 36.12 was Haralds Silovs of Latvia. The only person behind him was Austria’s Daniel Greig, whose fall gave him a disappointing last place finish in 80.55 seconds.

But, speed skating isn’t the only event where times get faster and the stakes get higher.

In fact, every single event in the Sochi Winter Olympics makes those first games seem like child’s play. Take the skeleton event – athletes ride face down on a small sled down a frozen track at speeds that top 80 mph. We held our breath watching the event over the weekend, as it seemed almost certain that participants would lose control, fearing what that would mean at those speeds.

In the similar luge event – face up – in 2010, Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia died during a practice run crash, prompting changes to the course almost immediately. The starting lines were moved further down the hill to reduce top speeds, and in Sochi, uphill segments have been added to the course, again, to decrease top speeds.

Kumaritashvili was the fourth participant to die during the games – two others died in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1964 and one died in Albertville, France, in 1992. All four tragedies occurred during practice.

The first ski jump took place in Russia in 1906, when skiers constructed a wooden jump that launched them from 10-12 meters. Today, the longest jump in the individual large hill competition can top 140 meters. Digest that for a minute.

The reality is, technology allows sleds to go faster and skis to jump further. The fact that the games are televised adds another contest to the games – the ratings contest, in which television stations compete for ad dollars. People want to see action, they want to hold their breath, and they want to see snowboarders like Shaun White push the boundaries of their bodies. White, however, had a little more sense than that, as he withdrew from the first Olympic slopestyle contest, citing risk of injury as one of his reasons.

Yes, the Olympic games should be entertaining. But as limits continue to be pushed, we have to wonder what unthought of tricks, times and dangers the 2018 games will bring, and if the athletes will have enough sense to bow out before more serious injuries occur or more lives are lost.

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