The tragic loss of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili not only put a cloud over the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, but it also reinforced just how hazardous some events are.
Athletes constantly push the boundaries of their sport, seeking new ways to get an advantage, shaving milliseconds off their time, and generally doing things bigger, faster, stronger than ever before.
Doing so comes with inherent risks, especially at the Winter Olympics, where the margin of error is so slim. A gold medal or a serious accident can be the difference of the edge of one's ski, skate, or sled. With that, here are the ten most dangerous sports at these Winter Olympics.
Nodar Kumaritashvili's fatal crash notwithstanding, luge is a an event riddled with significant risk. Athletes lay virtually unprotected on a 50-pound sled and careen down an ice chute reaching speeds of nearly 90 miles per hour. Even though the IOC and VANOC decided to start the men and women's luge events further down the track this year, the sliders are still hitting speeds nearly identical to that when the race began at the higher point.
The only thing separating a slider and a horrible fall is one's ability to properly shift weight at the precise moment when entering a turn, or one runs the risk of sliding out of control at speeds that would easily lead to tickets on the interstate. Here's Friday's tragic accident.
Doubles luge really ups the stakes. Luge partners must be completely in sync with each other or the results can be worse than a single slider crashing. If a two-man luge goes down, not only does one of the partners have to worry about a free-flying sled, but also his out of control partner. The combination of greater weight and speed gives doubles luge an even narrower margin of error.
So luge isn't dangerous enough? Ok, now go down head first and really up the ante. Skeleton athletes literally take the danger head-on as they travel down the ice chute at nearly 90 miles per hour with even less of a chance to brace one's self. If you become disjointed from your sled, you have very little chance of getting your head out of the way from the closest wall.
The bobsled may give a sense of security, but in reality, the sled and the four athletes inside can reach upwards of 90-plus miles per hour as they scream down the course. The team must steer nearly 1,400 pounds of weight at a high of speed and at the sharpest of angles. It is no overstatement to say that the driver may very well has the life of his teammates in his hands during competition.
Aerial skiing is one of the most visually stunning sports, but it can also be one of the most bone crunching when an athlete fails to properly land his or her jump. Aerial skiers can reach heights above five stories at the peak of their jumps.
Sometimes it does not even need to be a landing that determines a skier's safety. If a skier does not take the proper body angle when launching off the ramp, the results can be difficult to watch.
Downhill skiing is all about time and getting down the mountain as fast as possible. This can make for a dicey situation when speeds are hitting upwards of 70 miles per hour and skiers are riding the very edges of their skis. Every step is taken to make every turn as sharp as possible on snow that can act like a sheet of ice at that speed—such is the case in Vancouver/Whistler.
The speed and the desire to cut every corner possible on the way down the mountain can be the ingredients for stunning and horrifying crashes.
One example is Hermann Meier's accident at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano. Amazingly, Meier was all right and later won two gold medals.
Take the speed element of downhill skiing and throw in the necessary turns of giant slalom and you have the potential for simply horrible crashes. The average speed on a Super G course may not reach the highest average speeds of a straight downhill run, but consider the fact that Super G participants do not get to test the course with a trial run and you have the chance for serious knockout blows. Super G requires the most risk of any ski event and thus makes it the most dangerous.
Snowboarding was introduced to the Olympics in 1998 and with it came halfpipe. Now, halfpipe can be one of the most entertaining and popular sports during the Olympics, but its inherent risks are overlooked. These risks increased when the IOC raised the height of the ramp walls for 2010 to increase velocity, hang time, and the opportunity for more daring tricks.
One misjudgment in height or distance, and you can have scary results. Shaun White learned this the hard way during the 2010 X Games when he came extremely close to knocking himself out of the Olympics. I still don't know how he walked away from this wreck without a major injury. Another boarder may not be so lucky.
Speed skaters wear helmets, but it isn't one's head to worry about when a speed skater crashes. It's the out of control 18-inch long razorblades that are all of a sudden flying out of control, literally carving up a person. American bronze medalist JR Celski (pictured) learned that the hard way when one accident slashed his leg to the bone. That isn't paint on the end of his stake. One slip-up by you or a competitor, and you could find yourself at the end wrong end of a Ginsu knife-like blade.
We saw it over the weekend with multiple crashes in the Women's moguls: The event can lead to disastrous results with just a wrong landing of one's ski or pole on a mogul. One ill-timed mogul and the skier is sent into a whirlwind of pain. Luckily, mogul skiers do not achieve the top speeds of their alpine brethren, but moguls and heights reached off the ramps can lead to painful results.