|Georgian luger's tragedy still haunts his hometown|
|February 12, 2011|
BAKURIANI, Georgia — High in the Georgian mountains, in the ski resort of Bakuriani, an elderly man was gently clearing snow from a memorial to the town's tragic hero, who died at the Winter Olympics a year ago.
Topped by the five Olympic rings and adorned with flowers, the sombre stone monument depicts the engraved face of 21-year-old luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed when his sled hurtled off the track just before the start of the winter games in Vancouver on February 12, 2010.
Here in Kumaritashvili's hometown, there is still sadness about his death, but there is also anger, after new allegations this week that organisers of the games were warned almost a year in advance that athletes could be "badly injured or worse" on the track where he died.
"Someone should be held responsible for this," said Zaza Siamashvili, who was lighting a candle in tribute to the luger at the memorial.
"They should be held responsible not just because it would make it easier for the family who lost a son, but for people competing in future Olympics and risk-related sports, so there is not another accident like this."
Families of tourists on horse-drawn sleighs glide through the snow-covered streets of Bakuriani as the picturesque little town enjoys the winter holiday season, but a huge picture of Kumaritashvili at a main traffic junction ensures that he is not forgotten here.
"What we've just learned is absolutely infuriating for us, because they knew that the track was dangerous months beforehand," said local hotel worker Nugzar Budziashvili.
"If they knew, why didn't they do something about it?"
A coroner's report last year suggested that Kumaritashvili's "relative lack of experience" on such a challenging track could have contributed to the accident which killed him.
But a new investigation by the Canadian broadcaster CBC has claimed that the chief executive of the games organising committee had said in an email in March 2009 that the International Luge Federation had warned "that the track is in their view too fast and someone could get badly hurt."
Kumaritashvili's father David has questioned whether his son was effectively condemned to death by the alleged negligence.
Recovering from a recent operation in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, with a photograph of his son in his Olympic sports kit on the wall next to him, he said that he was still deeply upset that the luger had been partly blamed for the accident.
"They tried to portray him as an inexperienced young sportsman. That?s absolute rubbish," he declared.
"I want Nodar to be remembered as who he actually was: a fearless, skilled and dedicated sportsman."
Georgia's Olympics Committee has described the new allegations as a "huge scandal" and has said that it will call for another investigation if the purported negligence is confirmed.
The accident caused widespread grief in the former Soviet republic and the authorities plan to build a new luge track in Bakuriani in Kumaritashvili's memory, although construction work has yet to begin.
The young man's father -- a former luger himself -- said he hoped that the building of the new track would inspire other young Georgians to take up the sport, despite the tragedy that has devastated his own family.
"I believe that Nodar will become a symbol -- an inspiration for young Georgian athletes," he said.
Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.
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