2010 Winter Olympics

Before the competitions and celebrations even began in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday a fatal accident occurred in front of onlookers.  Twenty-one-year-old luger Nodar Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled at 90 mph rounding a turn known as “the 50-50 curve” and was launched out of the course hitting a metal support beam in air, according to an article in the New York Times. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. A CNN article said the $100 million Whistler course is the fastest in the world and is also used by bobsled and skeleton competitors.

The graphic video of the accident initially circled around the internet, but was appropriately taken off most sites including msnbc.com and youtube. The only current video up is the Associated Press‘ account of the story, in which the images are blurred for ethical reasons.

Traditionally, Olympics offer a chance to showcase a city, attract visitors and promote tourism. But this year the Winter Olympics experienced problems and got off to a rough start. Protestors rallied to demand the track be altered and rain caused the delay of two events, among other malfunctions.

These events brought several questions to mind:

1)   How much planning goes into an event like this? How far in advance?

2)   How can a city anticipate the amount of people that the event will bring to the city?

3)   Who are the primary stakeholders in this crisis? How were they addressed?

4)   What precautions can be taken to prepare for crises, like the one that happened this year with the luger?

John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, told reporters “I am so sorry to be in this position and to be reporting this to you. It’s not something I had prepared for, never thought I would need to be prepared for.”

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge issued a statement saying “Our first thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of the athlete.  The whole Olympic Family is struck by this tragedy, which clearly casts a shadow over these Games.” A full statement from the organization can be found on the same site.

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6 Responses to 2010 Winter Olympics

  1. cwilusz says:

    This tragic accident is a perfect example of how when enacted properly how crisis management can truly help an organization. I believe that the Olympics handled this ordeal well. After the news of the accident broke around the country and the world I believe a lot of questions were raised. People wanted to know more. Olympic officials were quick to issue a statement offering their condolences and let the public know that it was a human error that caused the fatality and not the track.

  2. tburns says:

    I agree with cwilusz. The fact that they were quick to respond and explain what happened to cause the tragedy really says that their PR team was prepared to react to this type of situation. It is so sad they had to be ready for this type of thing, but it’s a reality we have to face. This is one ting in crisis management that I think causes PR professionals ethical/emotional struggle.

    I always ask myself if I could pull myself together to issue such statements on behalf of a client when I am the type of person to become emotionally involved really easily. For example, if I worked for a client such as a hospital or something along those lines and had to make statements about death, could I make it through such speeches without crying? I don’t think so, which makes me wonder: in PR, is it better for someone to show their emotions and show they are human too or is it better to be composed and appear to be the one in control all the time?

  3. hhoma says:

    Tara, you bring up a point that I never considered when choosing public relations as a career path to pursue. I, too, do not know if I could keep myself composed in such a sad situation. I almost think that those who have to make sad/depressing statements often probably become desensitized to it.

    I think the best way to handle it, though, is with a balance of the two – by showing emotion through the way you speak, but obviously refraining from tearing up or any other over-the-top physical indication of your sadness. (And if you are so emotionally distraught, it would probably be best to have someone else make the statement, if it’s possible.)

    I’m surprised that this is something I did not consider, since I am interested in pursuing an internship/career at the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where deaths and other sad events happen often. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future.

  4. cmcelroy says:

    I thought the Olympics did really well in handling the situation, but I’m curious where you all stand on the issue of video and pictures of the event. I know the post talks about how the video has been taken down on some sites, but I have found several that still have it available, or at least stills from it. Even the New York Times has an interactive map of the track, with step by step details of where the luger was at that precise moment. To me, that seems a little crazy. I was discussing it today with my roommate, and after showing her the application, her response was “Wow. Why not just make it into a flash game?”

    How do you guys feel the media has handled the situation? Do you think these decisions are ethical? I’m curious to see if I’m the only one that was so bothered by the NY Times diagram.

    I will say that I thought the Friday night segment covering the accident by Brian Williams was done really well. While I wouldn’t have shown the video at all, he at least gave a well-worded, respectful warning about what was about to be shown. I appreciate that he at least seemed to understand and respect the gravity of the video.

  5. dsmith says:

    Although I see your point about the NYT interactive map Carly, I still don’t think it was too distasteful since it only used blurry, still images. It helps the reader get a better picture of where and how the luger lost control and what happened.

    I do have to wonder though, what about the millions of people who saw the full, unedited videos before they were removed from the web? How is this right? How did they not think of the family and friends of the luger when they put the video up?

  6. dsmith says:

    Hi guys…just wanted to point out that the blog Journalistics wrote about the use of the video in their post today. They mentioned the SPJ code of ethics, specifically the part about “minimizing harm” which clearly was not taken into consideration in this case. The blog also said something really interesting which I’ve never thought of it. It said, “I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember ever seeing somebody die on the evening news.”

    Here’s the link to the blog if you want to check it out:


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