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Page last updated at 09:18 GMT, Saturday, 13 February 2010

Olympic luger Nodar Kumaritashvili dies after crash

Nodar Kumaritashvili

The death of a luge competitor who left the track at high speed has cast a shadow over the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili's sled flipped and he smashed into a steel pole at the Whistler Sliding Centre, killing the 21-year-old.

Georgia confirmed they will compete in the Games as a tribute to him, while organisers said the luge event will take place following an investigation.

The Georgian team were given a standing ovation at Friday's opening ceremony.

Kumaritashvili's sled struck the inside of the track's last turn during his sixth and final training run, sending his body into the air and over a concrete wall.

Devastated Rogge reacts to luge tragedy

His sled remained on the track, and the visor from his helmet appeared to continue down the ice.

Medical staff at the track and doctors at a local hospital tried to resuscitate Kumaritashvili, part of a seven-strong Georgian team, but the country's Olympic delegation later confirmed he had died as a result of his injuries.

"We are all in deep shock, we don't know what to do. We don't know whether to take part in the opening ceremony or even the Olympic Games themselves," said delegation head Irakly Japaridze.

Luge track 'dangerous' - BBC commentator

"This tragedy casts a shadow over these Games," said a visibly upset International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge, while International Luge Federation chief Josef Fendt said the incident was "the gravest thing that can happen in sport".

The decision to go ahead with the luge competition on Saturday was taken after probes by the Coroners Service of British Colombia and the International Luge Federation (FIL).

Officials concluded the track was not deficient but that the athlete "did not compensate properly" going into a bend.

BBC Sport's Colin Bryce, a former British bobsleigh competitor, said Kumaritashvili was "clearly nervous going down the final run - you could see his head sticking up."

Opened: Winter 2008
Vertical drop: 152m
Max gradient: 20%
Track top speed: 95.65mph (153.93kph)
Cost: 104m Can dollars (£63m)
Average speed at Whistler is 15mph greater than at other tracks
Average vertical drop at Whistler is 28m greater than at other tracks

Bryce added: "He was very scared going down the fast corners.

"It's up to the organisers whether there is such a small percentage chance of that happening again that we continue with the race, or whether we stop."

The track at Whistler, which is shared by the sports of luge, skeleton and bobsleigh, already has a reputation as one of the fastest - and most dangerous - in the world.

In the build-up to the Games several teams had raised concerns about the safety of athletes, who regularly exceed 90mph as they compete, though Kumaritashvili crashed at a corner which had not been previously identified as a danger area.

Before the incident, British skeleton slider Amy Williams told BBC Sport: "I just hope Whistler is safe and that there aren't too many crashes and serious injuries."

Sports Minister talks of Georgia's devastation

Australia's Hannah Campbell-Pegg added: "I think they are pushing it a little too much.

"To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we're crash-test dummies? I mean, this is our lives."

Their comments followed earlier accidents, including one involving gold medal favourite Armin Zoeggeler of Italy and several during women's luge training runs on Wednesday.

Among those who crashed, Romania's Violeta Stramaturaru was knocked unconscious for a few minutes and taken to hospital.

The track is where British competitor Adam Rosen crashed during training in October last year. He suffered a dislocated hip as well as nerve and tendon damage.

After intensive rehabilitation, Rosen made the team for his second Winter Games and was taking part in the same training session when Kumaritashvili crashed.

"We are a family in luge, so a sudden and tragic loss such as this impacts everyone deeply," said Rosen in a statement released by the British Olympic Association.

"We know that the international federation, the IOC and (Vancouver organisers) have no higher priority than ensuring our safety, on and off the field of play.

"I know they are looking into this and, should it be deemed necessary for them to introduce additional measures, they will do so."

British skeleton's performance director, Andi Schmid, said before the Games that a lack of track time for athletes in the run-up to the Games had increased the risk of accidents.

"To what extent are we just little lemmings that they throw down a track? I mean, this is our lives"

Hannah Campbell-Pegg, Australian luger

"I would say especially for speed sports you need to have more access to tracks and whoever organises the Olympics needs to offer that," said Schmid in January.

"Not only so that everyone has a fair chance but also because of the danger. We need to be careful so that these sports stay great action sports and don't become dangerous killer sports.

"I'm not saying that will happen but some athletes from other nations are less experienced."

Kumaritashvili competed in five World Cup races this season, finishing 44th in the world standings.

He had already crashed in the second of his six training runs, emerging shaken but unhurt. His average speed in others runs - 88mph - was considerably less than speeds achieved by top competitors so far.

Prior to the Vancouver Games, no Winter Olympic athlete had been killed during an event.

But the 1964 Games in Innsbruck were overshadowed by the deaths of two competitors before it began.

British luger Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypeski was killed during practice two weeks before on the Igls Olympic track, and Australian skier Ross Milne died during training for the same Games.

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see also
Georgian pulls out of luge event
14 Feb 10 |  Luge
Olympics open after luge tragedy
13 Feb 10 |  Vancouver 2010
British luger faces Olympic fight
08 Oct 09 |  Winter Sports
Sliding into Olympic position
09 Mar 09 |  Luge
Event guide: Luge
10 Jan 06 |  Luge

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