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Georgian Luger Dies In Olympics Training Crash

Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili crashes during practice Friday at in Whistler, British Columbia.
Peter Parks
/
AFP/Getty Images
Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili crashes during practice Friday at in Whistler, British Columbia.

A men's Olympic luger from the Republic of Georgia died Friday in a "horrific" crash on a track that is the world's fastest and has raised safety concerns among competitors.

Nodar Kumaritashvili was in the final turn of the track, going nearly 90 mph, when he flipped off his sled, over the wall and into a steel post outside the track, NPR's Howard Berkes reported.

"He was immediately attended to by emergency crews who tried to revive him at the scene, performing CPR and mouth-to-mouth," Berkes said. "He was rushed to the hospital and he was later pronounced dead."

The death of the 21-year-old luger left Olympic officials "in deep mourning" and "heartbroken beyond words."

Before speaking at a news conference, Olympic International Committee President Jacques Rogge took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes and said, "Sorry, it's a bit difficult to remain composed."

Rogge said he spoke with the president of the Republic of Georgia to express his sympathy. Rogge said the Georgian delegation has not decided whether to remain in the competition.

"We are deeply struck by this tragedy and join the IOC in extending our condolences to the family, friends and teammates of this athlete, who came to Vancouver to follow his Olympic dream," said John Furlong, chief executive of the Vancouver organizing committee.

Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia is seen just before crashing Friday during a training run for the men's singles luge at the Vancouver Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia.
Ricardo Mazalan
/
AP
Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia is seen just before crashing Friday during a training run for the men's singles luge at the Vancouver Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia.

Men's luge competition is to begin Saturday. It's unclear if the schedule will change.

Kumaritashvili is the fourth competitor to die in the history of the Winter Games and the first since 1992. None of the deaths occurred during official competition.

"It's a very rare situation," three-time Olympic champion and German coach Georg Hackl said before learning of the death, clearly shaken after seeing Kumaritashvili tended to furiously by medical workers.

Shortly before the accident, Hackl said he didn't believe the track was unsafe.

"People have the opinion it is dangerous but the track crew does the best it can and they are working hard to make sure the track is in good shape and everyone is safe," he said. "My opinion is that it's not anymore dangerous that anywhere else."

It was Kumaritashvili's second crash during training for the Vancouver Games. He also failed to finish his second of six practice runs, and in the runs he did finish, his average speed was about 88 mph — significantly less than the speed the top sliders are managing on this lightning-fast course.

The track is considered the world's fastest and several Olympians recently questioned its safety. More than a dozen athletes have crashed during Olympic training for luge, and some questioned whether athletes from smaller nations — like Georgia — had enough time to prepare for the daunting track.

At the finish area, not far from where Kumaritashvili lost control, athletes, coaches and officials solemnly awaited word on Kumaritashvili before eventually being ushered away. Access to the crash area was closed within about 30 minutes.

"I've never seen anything like that," said Shiva Keshavan, a four-time Olympian from India.

The remainder of men's training was canceled for the day, with VANOC officials saying in a release that an investigation was taking place to "ensure a safe field of play."

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

Earlier in the day, gold-medal favorite Armin Zoeggeler of Italy crashed, losing control of his sled on Curve 11. Zoeggeler came off his sled and held it with his left arm to keep it from smashing atop his body. He slid on his back down several curves before coming to a stop and walking away.

From The Associated Press and staff reports.

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