WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — The luge track is safer and better than it was at the Olympics almost two years ago.
But it's unlikely international luge races will return to the higher start positions at Whistler Sliding Centre, even though many competitors would like to see that.
The blinding speed lugers reached on the original Olympic track make the higher starts too dangerous, says Svein Romstad, secretary-general of the International Luge Federation.
"I do not anticipate ever going back to the start again," Romstad told The Canadian Press during the weekend's luge World Cup.
"Most of the athletes do want to go from there, but we have to look at the whole picture. The most prudent thing to do is remain where we are," he added. "The competition starts are legitimate that we have right now as far as the length and speed. It's really not an urgency and a need to go back up again."
The death of Georgia's Nodar Kumaritashvili during luge training on the opening day of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics resulted in lower start positions for the games. The men started from what was the women's start, and the women and doubles dropped to the junior start position.
Those same starts were used at this World Cup. Canadian luger Sam Edney would like to see a return to the higher starts.
"Everyone feels confident on this track," he said. "It's something I think can be done in the future."
Olympic doubles champion Andreas Linger of Austria favors the lower start positions. Linger, who along with brother Wolfgang won the doubles race over the weekend, says luge speeds reached 88 mph at the test World Cup in 2009.
"To be honest, this was a little bit too fast for us," he said. "Our opinion is it's safer to go from the lower start."
Kumaritashvili was traveling at more than 89 mph when he lost control of his sled going into Turn 16. He flew off the track and slammed into a metal pole.
Luge sleds can reach 96 mph when starting from the top of the Whistler track. That's about 11 mph more than the designer's original calculations.
Romstad said he received positive feedback from athletes and team captains during the Whistler World Cup. It was the first major international luge competition held on the track since the Olympics.
The Whistler track has undergone subtle changes, and safety has been improved since the death at the Olympics. Teams were also given extra training time on the track leading to this year's competition.
"Since the Olympics there have been quite a bit of changes on the track, improvements and enhancements," Romstad said. "It seems to be working very well."
One change the luge federation wants before the 2013 world championships in Whistler is a shift in the position of the women's start. The current start is too near a corner, Romstad said. This leaves too little time to make the turn, resulting in mistakes.
"The end result is too many times there are mistakes happening which determines the competition," said Romstad. "It's a fairness issue, not a safety issue.
Romstad also wants the start moved about 40 yards down the track.
It is the responsibility of Whistler Sliding Centre to pay for the changes. Romstad said talks with local officials have been positive.
One challenge facing the federation is spreading nine world cup races among potential host venues.
Romstad, who raced luge for Norway but now lives in Roswell, Ga., knows the sport has the most support in Europe, especially Germany. But he wants to see it grow in North America.
"Our sport is very Europe centric," he said. "This is such a popular sport in Germany. Our sponsors are German."
One idea is a North American circuit within the World Cup.
"A cup within the Cup," Romstad said.
There are 16 luge tracks around the world, with two more coming as Sochi, Russia, and Pyeongchang, South Korea, prepare to host the next two Winter Olympics. Four of those tracks are in North America. Besides Whistler there are venues in Calgary, Alberta; Lake Placid, N.Y.; and Salt Lake City.
"I think North America has a very strong case," he said. "With four tracks we really have to come back here. If we are back here, why not try and use all the tracks here."