VANOC boss at Georgian luger's memorial
The head of the Vancouver Olympics, a gold medallist and other dignitaries attended a ceremony Tuesday in Bakuriani, Republic of Georgia, at the grave of the luger killed in a practice run at last month's Winter Games.
John Furlong, president of the Vancouver organizing committee, luge gold medallist Felix Loch, International Luge Federation president Josef Fendt and other athletes and officials came to the hometown of Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died hours before the opening of the Games on Feb. 12.
Tuesday's ceremony was held 40 days after Kumaritashvili's death, in line with the rites of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
An Orthodox priest read a prayer and local men sang traditional Georgian chants over Kumaritashvili's grave in the cemetery of a tiny church in the mountain village, Georgia's top winter sports resort.
The athlete's father, David Kumaritashvili, said in a speech that his son's death shouldn't discourage young men from taking part in luge competitions.
"The tragic death of my son mustn't stop the development of that sport," he said.
Georgian Olympic Committee chief Georgy Natsvlishvili said a luge track will be built in Bakuriani in the luger's memory.
The International Olympic Committee has said it will help fund the track's construction in the village, which was formerly a winter sports training centre for Soviet athletes. Bakuriani was part of the short-lived bid from the neighbouring town of Borjomi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Before travelling to Georgia, Furlong told a news conference in Vancouver on Sunday he considered it his obligation to meet with the athlete's family.
"This obviously was a very major thing that happened here and it's important for us to be there to the end," he said.
Kumaritashvili died when he lost control of his sled at nearly 145 km/h, flew off the course and slammed into a trackside steel pole. An investigation by the luge federation concluded that Kumaritashvili was late in coming out of the next-to-last turn and failed to compensate.
But the luger's family has blamed his death on the course's design.
The Kumaritashvilis decorated a room at their house in the athlete's memory, placing his sports uniform on his bed next to the flag of Georgia.
The athlete was a hero for his hometown, widely admired for his sports achievements and also high spirits and generosity.
A four-year old neighbour, Dmitry Laliyev, proudly carried a toy rifle Tuesday that he had asked the luger to bring as a present from Canada. The athlete's parents found the toy in his luggage after his death.