How to Hit a Curveball

Confront and Overcome the Unexpected in Business
By Scott R. Singer with Mark Levine

Compounding Tragedy

Friday, February 19th, 2010

I’m sure the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver were a nightmare for the International Luge Federation (FIL). Every four years their sport gets a chance to come out of the shadows and take the world stage. But this time, the moment the curtain rose, they faced a terribly tragic curveball: the horrifying fatal accident of a Georgian luger flying out of the track.

Having built the fastest luge track in the world in an effort to maximize the speed and excitement of their event, the FIL blamed the dead athlete… compounding their mistakes by responding horribly to the curveball.

The federation “said what happened yesterday was because of human error,” (Georgian president Mikheil) Saakashvili said. “I don’t claim to know all the technical details, but one thing I know for sure: No sports mistake is supposed to lead to a death.”

On Friday, the luge federation…said that it’s investigation of the incident showed that “there was no indication that an accident was caused by deficiencies in the track.” Instead it said that luger Nodar Kumaritashvili “did not compensate properly to make the correct entrance” into the curve where he slid off the track at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

—Wall Street Journal, Georgia Leader Has Sharp Words for Luge Federation

Then, in contradiction of its own statements, the FIL reworked the track, slowing it down.

Overnight, race officials moved the men’s start about 100 feet lower to the women’s and doubles start, increased the height of walls and reshaped the ice to keep crashing athletes in the track. As a result, speeds decreased from 94 mph to the upper 80s, more in line with World Cup racing.

—Los Angeles Times, Slowdown is in Effect in Luge Competition

Instead of “listening to their coach” and “waiting for a pitch they could hit” the FIL blamed the victim and then overreacted. Sadly, there’s no way to bring back Nodar Kumaritashvili or console his family and friends, but I am sure that the FIL could have done better in its handling of this curveball.

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