|Olympic luger Nodar Kumaritashvili dies after crash|
|February 12, 2010|
The death of a luge competitor who left the track at high speed has cast a shadow over the Winter Olympics in Canada ahead of the opening ceremony.
Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili's sled flipped and he smashed into a steel pole at the Whistler Sliding Centre, killing the 21-year-old.
It happened hours before the ceremony to open the Vancouver Games.
Georgia confirmed they will compete in the Games as a tribute to him and will march as scheduled at the 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.
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.
"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 IOC confirmed an investigation had been launched and technical officials were trying to establish the cause of the crash.
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."
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."
BBC Sport understands organisers currently expect the Olympic luge competition, scheduled to begin on Saturday, to continue after team leaders met and agreed not to abandon it.
But top IOC officials were heading to Whistler and may reverse that decision.
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."
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.
"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.
A minute's silence for the pair was observed at the opening ceremony.
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