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Sport federations confident of sliding track’s future

Canadian athletes also make the case for a second track at home

The Whistler Sliding Centre will be open for business in the future, according to the international sport organizations for bobsleigh, skeleton and luge.

That was the message delivered in Whistler on the morning that the last sliders were due to compete on the fastest track in the world, a track that was under constant scrutiny during the 2010 Games in the wake of a fatal luge accident and numerous other crashes during the Olympic competition.

This too, despite the fact that international sport federation reviews are still underway over the Feb. 12 death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. He flew off the track and hit a steel post. His death is also under investigation by the provincial coroner's office.

When asked how the track will stay in operation in the wake of the negative criticism among some members of the sliding community, incoming president and CEO of the Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies Keith Bennett said:

"It's pretty clear that safety of the track is one of our number one priorities and we have every confidence in the sport federations and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) that will be reviewing the tragic accident and once their findings have been made known, we will have complete confidence that the track is safe. So it will be really up to those reviews before we make any moves.

"We have every confidence that we will be running the track," he added. "We haven't made any indication that we wouldn't."

Bennett's organization doesn't take over the track until June. Plans are underway for the track's future and both sport federations intend to hold World Cup competitions at the sliding centre in the years to come.

The international bobsleigh federation has scheduled a World Cup Bobsled for Whistler in November 2010 and the international luge federation has scheduled a Luge World Championships in 2013.

"The Whistler Sliding Centre will be one of the classic tracks on the FIBT World Cup circuit," said Robert Storey, president of the Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT). "The FIBT fully intends to have annual World Cups in Whistler along with development programs and junior circuit races in both bobsleigh and skeleton."

The international luge federation echoed the sentiment:

"We will never forget the tragic loss of Nodar Kumaritashvili and our thoughts continue to be with his friends, family and the sliding community," said Svein Romstad, secretary general of the Fédération Internationale de Luge de Course (FIL). "I cannot think of a better way to honour Nodar's spirit than to ensure that athletes of all ages and skill sets utilize The Whistler Sliding Centre and grow the sport of luge. The future of this track is bright and the FIL will continue to work closely with the FIBT, the Canadian Luge Association and Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies to foster a movement of sport that the world will be proud of."

Certainly Canadian sliding athletes were clear in how they saw the future of the track. A handful came out to the press conference on Saturday to voice their support for the track.

"I've crashed in a lot of places," said Kaillie Humphries, who won the gold medal in the women's bobsleigh race last week. "But generally the track is a great track. It's one that I hope stays around, I really do. I think the track is fun, it's challenging and it's different and it gives Canada a second race venue. It gives North America a fourth and when we're trying to compete against, we're challenging the Germans and a lot of the other countries that have four tracks in their home country, it's important that we keep stuff going and we have options to continue to improve and this just gives another track for us to do that on."

The track was changed in the wake of Kumaritashvili's death, forcing the men's luge competition to start from the women's start.

At the time, the change was explained as a way to ease athletes' worries about the track and not the fact that there was anything technically wrong with it.

Canadian luge athlete Jeff Christie is the international representative for athletes for the FIL sport commission.

"I've talked to the other athletes," Christie said. "I think what we have to do is learn from what happened and make sure we change the rules and policies on how people qualify for the Olympics and how many runs they must take before they're allowed to race in the Olympics."