Georgian team might leave Games

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency



VANCOUVER — The Republic of Georgia is considering withdrawing from the Olympic Games after the death of one of its lugers on a track that produced ominous warnings going into the Games.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said the death of 21-year-old Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training run this morning has caused the Georgian team to think twice about competing.

“They are considering (withdrawing) but they have not confirmed yet,” Rogge said, adding the IOC is in “deep mourning” over the tragedy.

“It is difficult to remain composed,” Rogge said. “This is a very sad day. We have a young athlete who has lost his life in pursuing his passion. He had a dream to participate in the Olympic Games. I have no words to say what we feel.”

Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled during the final turn in his last training run at the Whistler Sliding Centre, his body hurtling off the track and into a steel pole.

Doctors at the scene were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead in hospital.

The death comes amid questions about the safety of the track, one of the fastest and most dangerous ever designed.

In January, American slider Tony Benshoof warned of a possible tragedy.

“When I first got on this track, I thought somebody was going to kill themselves,” Benshoof told NBC.

On Thursday, Austria’s Manuel Pfister recorded what’s believed to be the fastest speed, ever, by a luger when his sled reached a top end of 154 km/h during a training run, raising concerns with FIL, the sport’s international governing body.

“(Double Olympic champion) Armin Zoeggeler is convinced that we will reach 155 km/h here during the Olympics,” said FIL spokesman Wolfgang Harder. “We are going to have to put in speed limits for the next track which will be built for sure for the next Olympics. We think 155 km/h should be the limit. We have to take care of the security of our athletes.”

An investigation into the accident is underway, but Rogge wouldn’t speculate what may result, or if the luge competition could be affected.

“This is a time of sorrow,” he said. “It’s not a time to look for reasons. That will come in due time.”

John Furlong, the head of the Vancouver organizing committee, said he was heartbroken “beyond words.”

“It’s not something that I had prepared for, ever though I would need to be prepared for,” Furlong said. “My team has been devastated by this.”

Georgia, a republic of the former Soviet Union, has seven other athletes at the Games: Three alpine skiers, three figure skaters and one other luger.

Alberta premier Gordon Campbell and Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued statements of condolence Friday.

“The loss of a gifted, talented young athlete training for the opening of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games is heartbreaking for people around the globe,” Campbell said. “We all want to see athletes compete hard and succeed in their chosen sports, but at the same time our paramount concern is always for their safety and health.”

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

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