Dead luger was 'very brave'

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Canada's Ian Cockerline of Calgary, Alta. wears a black strip on his helmet as a tribute to Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili during luge training at Whistler Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010. (AL CHAREST/QMI AGENCY)

VANCOUVER — The first vice-president of the Georgian Olympic Committee stopped in his tracks, turned around and patted a Toronto reporter on the chest, just above the heart.

“Nodar’s death is a tragedy for his small village,” said Romaz Goglidze. “It’s a big tragedy for all Georgians. For example, my family cries all day. They never stop. It’s the same in my heart.”

There is still a deep sadness at the Vancouver Olympics. The cancellations, the weather, even the riots, are more of an inconvenience compared to the tragedy that was the death of 21-year-old luge slider Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died after a horrific crash during training Friday at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

The Georgian delegation at these Games were still shock Saturday and while the president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, lashed out at the International Luge Federation and the Vancouver organizing committee for ruling that Kumaritashvili’s crash was more the result of his inexperience and mistakes than any deficiencies of the track.

Goglidze, despite his limited English, tried to put a human face on the young athlete.

“He’s a very good, handsome guy. A very intelligent guy, very quiet and very brave,” Goglidze said, adding that Kumaritashvili’s father and uncle are both luge coaches. “There are three guys on our team from his school in his small village (Bakuriani) and they are all hurt.”

Saakashvili was not so gentle, scoffing at suggestions the Georgian team should never have entered the relatively inexperienced Kumaritashvili in these Olympics, on that track.

“They said that what happened (Friday) was because of human error. Well, with all due respect, I don’t claim to know all the technical details, but one thing I know for sure, no sport mistake is supposed to lead to a death,” he said.

The luge final was run Saturday after organizers made some changes to the course, considered one of the most difficult, and dangerous, in the world. Saakashvili pointed out that, if the track was safe, they wouldn’t have changed anything. The president also said that many of the top luge racers in the world expressed fears prior to Kumaritashvili’s crash that the track was dangerous.

“There were some suggestions that the wall (where Kumaritashvili exited the track) should have been higher,” he said. “The good news is they built it now. But I think the best news would be, in the future, (the organizers) listen more to the grievances of the sportsmen, they listen more to their sensitivities, and we don’t have to do things in the aftermath.”

Kumaritashvili had trained on the WSC track a total of 26 times prior to his accident, including six times this past week. He was ranked 44th out of 62 sliders on the World Cup circuit this season, up from 55th last season. Saakashvili said a new luge track would be built in Georgia, likely in Kumaritashvili’s hometown, and named after the young luger.

The Georgian delegation marched into the Opening Ceremony Friday wearing black armbands, a gesture repeated yesterday by all the luge competitors. The Georgians was given a standing ovation by the crowd at B.C. Place and Saakashvili emotionally praised the host nation.

“I’ve heard lots of things about the Canadian way of doing things, the Canadian way of being compassionate,” he said. “Well, we’ve seen it and experienced it first hand. This is an amazing thing because one of the lessons my country, my region and all other countries are learning from here, is that the spirit of humanity is the biggest thing you can take away from the Olympics. More so than winning medals.”

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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