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Whistler remembers Georgian luge athlete

Nodar Kumaritashvili dead after hitting pole in training run on eve of Olympics

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As Whistler's patios began to fill Friday evening and crowds gathered in the village squares for a live broadcasts of the Olympic opening ceremonies, one man was on everyone's mind - Nodar Kumaritashvili.

The young Georgian luge athlete died after a horrific crash on the Whistler Sliding Centre track this morning during the final training session.

He was 21 years old.

Alex Bryson, who works with the logistics team at the Whistler athletes' village, checked in the small Georgian team's luggage two day ago.

"I don't know if I met him or not," said Bryson in Village Square. "It's quite a small team so I may well have done."

Bryson is in Whistler for the season and said the news of Kumaritashvili's death rippled quickly among his friends, particularly those working for the Olympics. It was met with shock and sadness.

"He's 21, I'm 22. He's younger than me, his first Olympics...

"It's a strange one because everyone's excited for the Olympics, they're about to start but at the same time something like this happens. It's a really strange sort of balance."

Kumaritashvili was traveling at more than 143 kilometres per hour at the time of his crash. It happened on Corner 16, the last corner on the Whistler track, which, since it has been built, has become notorious for its speed and technical challenges.

The corner is called Thunderbird.

The young Georgian athlete flew off his luge and was launched over the wall where he hit a metal post.

Doctors were on the scene immediately, providing CPR through a tube. Though Kumaritashvili was flown to the Whistler Medical Clinic by helicopter minutes after the crash, doctors were unable to revive him.

Also walking through the village Friday afternoon was Paul Kristofic, the manager of the Canadian men's alpine team set to compete in the downhill tomorrow (Feb. 13).

"It's shocking," he said. "You don't expect to see something like that ever in that sport. It's a fast sport and I've never actually seen a big accident like that in luge.

"I think the athletes who are close to luge or part of luge are probably feeling it the most, that one of their colleagues has been killed and I think that's awful for them."

The men's luge is also scheduled for tomorrow but it is not clear if the event will go ahead as planned.

An investigation is underway into the circumstances of the accident. Training was suspended at the track and technical officials are now trying to establish the causes of the accident.

A visibly shaken International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, and John Furlong, CEO of the Games Organizing Committee, offered their condolences in a press conference early this afternoon.

"Our first thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of the athlete," said Rogge. "The whole Olympic Family is struck by this tragedy, which clearly casts a shadow over these Games."

Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed also extended his condolences to his family, teammates, colleagues and the people of the Republic of Georgia.

"The past week has impressed upon me the incredible friendship, admiration and sense of community that is created through hosting the Olympics Winter Games," said the mayor in a statement. "It is in this spirit of collective friendship that we feel the pain of this tragedy. The accident has deeply saddened all those gathered in our community to celebrate the passion, skill and excellence of Olympic athletes like Nodar."

Roger Ryan, standing outside Beetroot Café in Marketplace which he has owned for the past two and half years said it doesn't matter if the accident happened on the eve of the opening ceremonies or not.

"It's a tragedy," he said. "A 21-year-old chap loses his life."

 

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