Georgian going home

TUESDAY, FEB. 16, 2010

Memorial service pays tribute to luger

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Georgian luger killed in a crash was honored with prayers and candles at a memorial service Monday, with his Olympic teammates filing past to pay respects and the head of the Vancouver Games helping carry the casket.

Escorted by police, the body of Nodar Kumaritashvili began its long journey from Vancouver to his ski-resort hometown, where it was to be received by a Georgian spiritual leader.

“He’s on his way home,” said Patrick Hickey, head of the European Olympic Committees.

Three Georgian athletes, including figure skater Otar Japaridze, wearing a black armband on his red team jacket, attended Monday’s service, filing past the open casket to touch the body of their fallen teammate.

Kumaritashvili’s uncle and coach, Felix, broke into tears.

Vancouver organizing committee head John Furlong was among 10 people who carried the casket out of the building and placed it in the back of the hearse.

“It was extremely moving and heartbreaking to be there,” Furlong said. “We did the best we could to bring the appropriate environment to bring closure to what happened here.”

Furlong said organizers helped expedite Canadian formalities so the luger’s body could be returned home as soon as possible.

The president of Georgia’s Olympic Committee, Gia Natsvlishili, was accompanying the body back to Georgia.

Tears streaming down his face, senior Georgian Olympic official Ramaz Goglidze said Kumaritashvili’s hometown of Bakuriani, a village of about 1,500, remained in deep mourning.

“For every family in the village it’s a tragedy,” he said. “Even people who never met him cry all day, everyone.”

The young luger’s father, David Kumaritashvili, told the Associated Press in Georgia that his son worried the track was too dangerous, but insisted on competing because he had come to the games to try to win.

“He told me: I will either win or die,” David Kumaritashvili said. “But that was youthful bravado; he couldn’t be seriously talking about death.”

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