When the athletes from 82 nations march into Vancouver’s BC Place for the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, one will be noticeably missing following a fatal accident at the Whistler Sliding Center. Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died Friday when he lost control during training.
The Opening Ceremony will serve as a tribute to Kumaritashvili, with the flags being lowered to half-mass. “Tonight’s ceremony is dedicated to the memory of Georgian Olympic athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili,” the scoreboard read as spectators piled into the arena.
Kumaritashvili, only 21, lost control of his sled, went over the track wall and struck an unpadded steel pole near the finish line. Paramedics and doctors were unable to revive him shortly after the impact and he was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“I don’t know how he died but I can tell you one thing, the track was really very bad,” Georgian Olympics delegation head Irakly Japaridze said. “We are all in deep shock, we don’t know what to do. We don’t know whether to take part in (Friday’s) opening ceremony or even the Olympic Games themselves.”
The Georgian Olympic Committee opted to keep the delegation in the Olympics, having them march and compete in honor of their fallen teammate. He fourth competitor to die at a Winter Olympics, with none coming during competition.
“Getting ready to march in the Opening Ceremony with the best athletes in the world. I am so excited to be here,” World Champion Evan Lysacek wrote on his Facebook. “But my thoughts and prayers are with Team Georgia and the family and friends of Nodar Kumaritashvili tonight. He’ll be marching in spirit. Rest in peace.”
Two-time U.S. Champion Jeremy Abbott asked his Twitters to observe a moment after he learned the news. He later wrote: “So sad a life was taken away from us today. Now going to celebrate the one I still have at the Opening Ceremonies! Much Love to you all.”
Other Olympians also expressed condolences on social media including 2010 U.S. Champion Rachael Flatt. Other skaters offering their sympathies included Adam Rippon and Daisuke Murakami.
“When these bad accidents happen, it catches you so off guard because you’d never in a million years fathom something like that could happen,” Tanith Belbin said in an interview. “But it’s a reality in the end and these unfortunate incidents reminds us of that. The great thing at the Olympics is that everyone comes together and that everyone can offer some support to his team and family.”
The tragic incident, which came only hours before the official start of the first Olympics in Canada since 1988, was the topic of discussion in interviews with Olympic stars Apolo Anton Ohno, the five-time Olympic medalist speedskater, and gold meal skiing hope Lindsey Vonn.
“I was about to do an interview when I saw it,” 2006 half-pipe Olympic gold medalist Hannah Teter said. “I had to fight back the tears. Every human life is worth so much. Somebody living their dream here attending the Olympics. He was only 21 years old. It’s such a tragedy.
The U.S. Olympic Committee’s Chairman Larry Probst and USA Luge President Dwight Bell issued a joint statement Friday: “We are all one family in these Olympic Winter Games and when tragedy like this strikes one athlete, we all grieve. We offer our deepest condolences to the family of Nodar Kumaritashvili, his teammates, the Georgian Luge Federation and the Republic of Georgia.”
Earlier at a press conference, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge wiped tears from his eyes as he spoke of the incident. “The whole Olympic Family is struck by this tragedy which clearly casts a shadow over these Games,” he said.
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