Georgian luger killed in Olympics luge crash

Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia is seen just before crashing during a training run for the men's singles luge at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2010. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

February 13, 2010 12:41:06 PM PST
The death of an Olympian during a practice run has cast a shadow over the Winter Games.A luge team member from the country of Georgia was killed when he lost control of his sled, and his death is raising questions about the safety of the course.

The accident happened just hours before Friday night's opening ceremonies in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The opening ceremonies at the Olympics were dedicated to the memory of 21-year-old Nodar Kumaritashvili.

His luge was hurtling down the track at nearly 90 miles per hour, nearing the end of the run, when he suddenly lost control and was thrown over the wall into a pole.

Despite efforts to revive him, Kumaritashvili died at the hospital a short time later.

Luge competitor Ruben Gonzalez had finished his practice run moments earlier.

"Everybody gasped, a collective gasp. And I've been in this sport since '84. I've never seen anybody come out of a track before. He was having a good run, and he just made a mistake at the last curve and came out and hit a pole," Gonzalez said.

Park Forest's Becky Wilczak-Brand was home with her kids when she heard the news. The four-time national luge champion last competed in the Salt Lake City Olympics eight years ago.

While she says her sport can be dangerous, she has never seen anything like Friday's crash.

"Most of the time, what happens is bumps and bruises," the retired luger said. "The worst I saw was maybe a concussion. It's a tragedy."

Several luge competitors questioned safety of the track, which is said to be the fastest in the world.

The president of the International Luge Federation last year said the wooden protective devices near the track's curb are too short, and they needed to be lengthened to keep lugers from flying off the track.

That is exactly what happened to the Georgian luger, as he was catapulted from his sled into the air over the ice-covered concrete wall.

"He had the dream to participate in the Olympic Games," said International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge. "I have no words to describe what we feel."