Thursday, 19 June 2014

CAUGHT On Film: The Fatal Crash of Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili

Nodar David Kumaritashvili (November 25, 1988 – February 12, 2010) was a Georgian luger, who suffered a fatal crash during a training run for the 2010 Winter Olympics competition in Vancouver, Canada, on the day of the opening ceremony. He became the fourth athlete to have died during 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 the sixth athlete to die in either a Summer or Winter Olympic Games.

Georgian postal stamp commemorating Kumaritashvili | Source
By December 31, 2009, the cut-off date for luge qualifications for the Olympics, Kumaritashvili was ranked 38th overall. As he had also raced in the minimum of five World Cup races over the previous two years, he 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 his final training run at the Whistler Sliding Centre when he lost control in the penultimate 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. Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation 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 December 10, 1975 when an Italian luger was killed. Before his crash, Kumaritashvili had taken 25 training runs on the Whistler track, 15 of which were from the men's start.

There was shock and mourning in Georgia after footage of his death was televised. 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 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. Upon learning of Kumaritashvili's death, the Governor General of Canada ordered flags on federal government buildings throughout the province of British Columbia, including at all Olympic venues, flown at half-staff until midnight, February 13, 2010. Fellow teammate and luger Levan Gureshidze who was to compete with Nodar withdrew after the crash telling teammates that he "couldn't go on" and went home to attend the funeral.

In the early morning on February 17, 2010, Kumaritashvili's body arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia. It reached his hometown of Bakuriani later that day and he was buried on Saturday, February 20, at the church he attended. 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 honour

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