Page last updated at 10:18 GMT, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Olympic luger's body returned from Vancouver to Georgia


The coffin carrying Nodar Kumaritashvili arrives at Tbilisi airport in Georgia

The body of the Georgian luger killed before he could take part in the Winter Olympics has been returned to his family in his home country.

Dozens of mourners greeted the coffin of Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, as it arrived in the village of Bakuriani at dawn, draped in a Georgian flag.

His mother was barely able to walk as she followed the coffin into her home.

Kumaritashvili was killed on Friday in a training accident shortly before the Olympic opening ceremony in Vancouver.

His luge flipped and he flew off the track while travelling at 145km/h (90mph), hitting a steel pole at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

The young sportsman had phoned his father before the Games to say the layout of the track frightened him.

Locals angry

Kumaritashvili's coffin was carried through an honour guard of young athletes when it arrived at Tbilisi airport early on Wednesday, before being driven 180km (110miles) to his family home in the mountains.

The body of Nodar Kumaritashvili is returned to the village of Bakuriani in Georgia
Nodar Kumaritashvili came from a family of winter sports enthusiasts

The casket was then opened for mourners to pay their respects.

Officials at the Winter Games blamed "human error" for the accident, but that caused anger in Georgia.

"Any athlete can make a mistake, but this mistake should not result in death. This is sport, not gladiators," said family friend Givi Panjakidze.

"Whatever mistake he made, he shouldn't have been thrown out of the track. He should have stayed inside," he told Reuters.

David Kumaritashvili, the athlete's father, told the BBC that he had spoken to his son before the accident.

"He told me he was afraid about one of the curves of the track in Canada."

The father is an experienced luger himself and he told his son to use his legs to slow himself down at the part of the run that concerned him, says our correspondent in Georgia, Tom Esslemont.

He continued: "His response was 'Dad, I want to be in the top 10. I want to do my best.' He was angry. He said: 'Why are you telling me to slow down? I have come such a long way and now you are telling me to put my legs on the track?'

"But I never ever thought that his taking part would lead to his death. But unfortunately it was the end. There were metal pillars after the bend and that was where he crashed.

"If those pillars had not been there this would not have happened. I might have seen him again alive."

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