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Nodar Kumaritashvili, official IOC picture
|Date of birth
||November 25, 1988
|Place of birth
|Date of death
||February 12, 2010 (aged 21)
|Place of death
||Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
||1.79 m (5 ft 101⁄2 in)
||80 kg (180 lb)
Nodar Kumaritashvili (Georgian: ნოდარ ქუმარიტაშვილი; pronounced [nɔdɑr kʰumɑritʼɑʃvili]; November 25, 1988 – February 12, 2010) was a Georgian luger. Kumaritashvili suffered a fatal crash during a training run for the 2010 Winter Olympics competition in Vancouver, Canada. He was the fourth athlete to ever die during the Winter Olympics preparations, after British luger Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypeski, Australian skier Ross Milne (both Innsbruck 1964), and Swiss speed skier Nicolas Bochatay (Albertville 1992), and sixth athlete to die at either Olympics.
Life and career
Nodar Kumaritashvili was born on November 25, 1988, in Borjomi, Georgia.
During his first season of competition, Kumaritashvili finished 55th out of 62 competitors in the 2008–09 Luge World Cup. Kumaritashvili finished 28th of 32 competitors in the 2009–10 Luge World Cup event at Cesana Pariol in January, which was his last World Cup event. At the time of his death he was ranked 44th out of 65 competitors in the 2009–10 World Cup season. His father, Dato, had also been a luger. The cousin of Nodar's father, Felix Kumaritashvili, is the head of the Georgian Luge Federation. Nodar was also related to Aleko Kumaritashvili, the founder of organized sledding sports in Georgia.
While maintaining a rigorous training and competition schedule, Nodar Kumaritashvili graduated from the Tbilisi Polytechnic University, where he received a bachelor's degree in economics in 2009. He was also a devout member of the Georgian Orthodox Church, who prayed at a local church before leaving for the Olympics.
Accident and death
Kumaritashvili qualified for the luge men's singles event at the 2010 Winter Olympics, which would be his Olympic debut. On February 12, 2010, Kumaritashvili was fatally injured in a crash during a training run at the Whistler Sliding Centre when he lost control in the final turn of the course and was thrown off his luge and over the sidewall of the track, striking an unprotected steel support pole at the end of the run. He was travelling at 143.6 km/h (89.2 mph) at the moment of impact. At a test event in 2009, a luger had clocked a record 153.937 km/h (95.652 mph) on the same track, prompting Josef Fendt, President of the International Luge Federation (FIL), to comment: "It makes me worry."
Medics were at his side within seconds of the crash. CPR began within one minute, and a plastic breathing tube was inserted into his mouth. He was airlifted to a Whistler hospital, where he died of his injuries. It was luge's first fatality since 10 December 1975 when an Italian luger was killed. Kumaritashvili's final run had been his 25th on the Whistler track, and his 13th from the men's start. Some United Kingdom newspapers have blamed the crash on Canada's aggressive Own the Podium program, which has given Canadian athletes more time to train at the Olympic venues to the detriment of Olympians from other countries.
The Georgian athletes during the opening ceremony
There was shock and mourning in Georgia after viewings on television of his tragic death. In response to the accident, the Georgian team announced that it would consider skipping the opening ceremonies or withdraw from the games entirely. However, Nika Rurua, the Georgian minister for sports and culture, later announced the team would stay in Vancouver and "dedicate their efforts to their fallen comrade". The other seven members of the Georgian Olympic team wore black armbands during the opening ceremony, tied a black ribbon to the Georgian flag, and left a space vacant in the procession as a mark of respect. They were greeted with a standing ovation from the assembled crowd, and immediately left BC Place Stadium after the procession.
A one-minute moment of silence was held during the opening ceremonies to honour his memory, when both the Canadian and Olympic flags were lowered to half-staff. Flags throughout the province of British Columbia, including at all Olympic venues, were flown at half-staff until midnight, February 13, 2010.
In the early morning on February 17, 2010, Kumaritashvili's body arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia via Munich, Germany. It reached his hometown of Bakuriani later that day and he was buried on Saturday, February 20, at his church. Thousands of Georgians attended a funeral feast for him the day before and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili attended his funeral service dressed in a Georgian Olympic uniform. The street where his childhood home is located was renamed in his honor.
The FIL has stated that Kumaritashvili's death "was not caused by an unsafe track". As a preventive measure, the walls at the exit of curve 16 were raised and the ice profile was adjusted. In addition, the start of the men's luge was moved to the women's starting point to reduce speed.
Training runs on the track resumed on February 13, after changes to the ice profile and a wooden fence being added at the corner where Kumaritashvili lost his life. In addition, padding has been added to exposed metal beams near the finish line. Olympic officials claimed the changes "are not for safety reasons but to accommodate the emotional state of the lugers". Three lugers, including Kumaritashvili's teammate Levan Gureshidze, did not participate in any training runs on February 13. Gureshidze decided to fly back to Georgia to mourn the loss of his deceased teammate, and the athletes who decided to participate all wore a black stripe on their helmets in honour of Kumaritashvili.
As of 20 February 2010, the British Columbia coroner's office was investigating the incident. It was reported to be considering, among other pieces of evidence, written complaints about the safety of the Whistler track by Venezuelan luger Werner Hoeger who crashed on the track on November 13, 2009 and suffered severe concussion, and information suggesting that the track was constructed in its present location near the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains for commercial reasons despite it being too narrow and steep. The track designer, Udo Gurgel, said: "The track had to be near Whistler, for use after the Olympics. You don't want to ruin an investment so the track is on terrain that's a little steep." According to John Furlong, the chief executive of the 2010 Winter Olympics organizing committee, proposals to build the sliding center on Grouse Mountain near Vancouver were rejected early in the bid phase due to reservations expressed by international bobsleigh, luge and skeleton federations.
On March 10, 2010, the FIL announced that it had made a €10,000 donation to the Kumaritashvili family in Georgia at the request of the Georgian Luge Federation in an effort to rebuild the Kumaritashvili family house. Donations were made to Sparkasse in Berchtesgaden, Germany.
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