Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Graveside tribute to Georgian luger

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BAKURIANI -- The head of the Vancouver Olympics, an Olympic gold medallist and other dignitaries attended a ceremony Tuesday at the grave of the Georgian luger killed during a practice run at last month's Winter Games.

Vancouver organizing committee president John Furlong, 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 Feb. 12.

"We feel the grief suffered by his family, especially his parents," Furlong said. "The people over there show how much they loved Nodar."

Tuesday's ceremony was held 40 days after Kumaritashvili's death, in line with the rites of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The athlete's father, David Kumaritashvili, said in a speech at the ceremony his son's death shouldn't discourage young men from practising luge.

"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 that was formerly a winter sports training centre for Soviet athletes.

Furlong left the closing ceremonies for the 2010 Paralympics early in order to make the memorial on time, but he said afterwards it was the right choice.

"It was really important to be here for us," he said. "For the family, it was something special for them to know that Canada cared as much."

He brought the family him pieces of a memorial that had been set up in Whistler by spectators and athletes. "I will never forget today, ever," he said.

Kumaritashvili died when he lost control of his sled at nearly 145 kilometres an hour, 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 Associated Press, files from CP

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2010 C4

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