UTAH OLYMPIC PARK Germany's sweep of the women's luge podium was somewhat overshadowed Wednesday by Salt Lake resident Iginia Boccalandro, whose performance in the 2002 Winter Games might give way to changes in the way the International Luge Federation (FIL) selects Olympic athletes.
Boccalandro competing for her native Venezuela was looking to improve on the last-place finish she posted in Nagano, Japan, four years ago. However, she was disqualified Tuesday after a horrific crash.
Coming out of curve 12, Boccalandro who turns 41 on Valentine's Day hit the wall hard. She was launched three feet in the air, and her feet came down outside the track while her upper body smashed onto the ice.
She then flipped and slid down the track face first on her belly before coming to rest in a straightaway. Her suit was torn and her body motionless for 10 seconds as medical crews pushed through the crowd to reach her.
"I wasn't hurt, just . . . frustrated," said Boccalandro, who has lived in Salt Lake for 10 years. "I'm completely disappointed. I feel really sad."
The medics' work was hampered as Boccalandro's sled lost steam and backed up toward her prone body. Track worker Drake Self, 49, Logan, lost part of his finger as he attempted to corral the runaway sled.
Boccalandro, who carried the Venezuelan flag in opening ceremonies, suffered ice burns on her head and hip. It was reminiscent of a Dec. 18 wreck on this same track that left Boccalandro with a cracked vertebrae, which has yet to heal.
FIL President Joseph Fendt took in the scene and afterward suggested that competitors with Boccalandro's skill level shouldn't be in the Olympics if not for the sake of the sport, then for their own safety.
"To be honest, the FIL must look at qualifications and make them harder," Fendt said.
Boccalandro, like a dozen other sliders, compete as part of FIL's slider development program designed to recruit athletes from underdeveloped nations.
The program has turned luge into a virtual United Nations, involving sliders from 26 nations including India, Bermuda, the Republic of Moldova, Argentina, Brazil and the Virgin Islands.
Besides Boccalandro, several sliders from the development program crashed while speeding down the track in excess of 80 mph. Romania's Eugen Radu left the track with a bloody face after a crack-up.
FIL began the development program in an attempt to diversify its athlete pool, which is dominated by Germans, but the program may be scaled back as the federation considers whether it's safe for competitors to compete solely for diversity's sake.
Wednesday it was more of the same non-diversity that has defined the sport as Sylke Otto, Barbara Niedernhuber and Silke Kraushaar, all Germans, finished one-two-three, respectively. Otto broke her own track record with a time of 42.940 seconds and easily won her first Olympic gold with a four-run time of 2:54.464.