KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — An Olympic track worker struck by a bobsled broke both legs and may have a concussion, IOC officials said Thursday.
The worker was on the track when he was hit by a forerunning sled near the finish line at the Sanki Sliding Center, just before the start of Thursday’s two-man bobsled training.
“We still do not know why he was in this zone and exactly what happened,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a visit to The Associated Press office in Sochi.
Bach added that the worker “maybe” has a concussion.
Later, IOC spokesman Mark Adams told the AP: “I understand he is conscious and talking and has two broken legs.”
Sochi organizers said the unidentified man was taken by helicopter to a hospital, but gave no other information about his injuries. Officials said the crash took place just before the finish line, which would suggest that the sled likely had not yet started to brake.
“According to standard procedure, a warning signal was given ahead of the forerunners’ bob beginning its run on the track,” Sochi organizers said in a statement released more than three hours after the accident. “The reasons for the icemaker’s presence on the track after the warning signal are currently being determined.”
Also, officials said the luge team relay event scheduled to make its Olympic debut on Thursday will take place as scheduled.
The first bobsled training session was delayed at the start for about 35 minutes as a work crew repaired a light fixture that was apparently smashed in the accident. Also, the track was cleared of other debris that had fallen into the finish area.
Olympic bobsledders remained in the start area during the delay, well away from the crash location.
Forerunning sleds are used before training and competition sessions to assess track conditions and make sure the facility is safe for racing. Also, people in the vicinity of the track are almost always alerted that a sled is in the track through public-address announcements, though it was unclear why the worker struck was unaware that the session was beginning.
It’s also unclear why the worker was on the track when the sled came out the final curve and approached the finish line. The sled that struck him was the second “forerunner” used before the training session.
Loudspeakers in the finish-deck area were working during training after the crash, though there has been at least one incident when the public-address system at the facility – an absolutely critical part of the track’s safety plan – failed.
It went silent when the U.S. and other international luge teams visited the Sochi track for a training session in November after electricity was lost. That impacted lights, timing devices and the speaker system that allows sliders up top know when sleds at the bottom of the chute have been removed and the track is clear for the next competitor.
In turn, it also tells people in the finish area that a sled is on the way.
“We didn’t really know what was going on,” USA Luge coach Mark Grimmette said in November, when detailing how training was interrupted.
The Sochi track was designed to be safer following the death of luger Nodar Kumarishtavili in an accident hours before the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Games four years ago. There have been no major mishaps during any of the competition so far, and athletes have been complimentary of the track’s condition.
“To be honest, the ice is phenomenal,” U.S. skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender said following the first two heats of the women’s competition, several hours before the mishap. “It’s better than it was in training and whoever they got working on the ice, kudos, because they are doing Olympic level work on the track. It is fast and it’s fun.”
In 2005, U.S. skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace was struck by a bobsled in the outrun of a track in Canada, shattering a leg and ultimately causing her to miss the 2006 Turin Olympics.
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