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Body of Georgian luger returned to homeland

The body of the Georgian luger killed during a practice run at the Vancouver Olympics was flown Wednesday to his hometown of Bakuriana, Georgia, where his grief-stricken mother threw herself on his coffin and cried: "Why have I survived you?" Nodar Kumaritashvili's body arrived in a flag-draped coffin at the Georgian capital's airport before dawn, met by relatives and onlookers. The 21-year-old is to be buried Saturday at a churchyard in Bakuriani, a village of about 1,500 that is located in one of Georgia's most popular winter sports regions.

The luger's mother, Dodo Kharazishvili, became so upset she had to be held up by the arms of relatives. An ambulance team was called to help her. The casket was taken to the family home, located on a street that local authorities have renamed in the athlete's honor. Hundreds of mourners gathered there, and many struggled to contain their own tears.

Among the mourners was Levan Gureshidze, a fellow Olympic luger who grew up and trained with Kumaritashvili but withdrew from the Olympics after his friend's death. He said he could not bear to compete after the accident that took his teammate's life.

"How could I take part in competition after that?" he said, tears filling his eyes.

Another athlete from Bakuriani, Alpine skier Iason Abramashvili, chose to stay in Vancouver.

"He cried, he was under terrible stress, but he finally chose to stay and compete in Nodar's memory," said the skier's father, Valiko Abramashvili.

Kumaritashvili died during Friday practice when he lost control of his sled and slammed into a trackside steel pole at nearly 90 mph. Olympic and luge federation officials blamed the accident on the athlete, saying he was late in coming out of the next-to-last turn and failed to compensate.

Concerns about the course, the world's fastest, had been raised for months. Many worried that the $100 million-plus venue was too technically demanding, and that only Canada's sliders would have enough time to adapt to it during practice.

After the crash, luge events were moved down the track to make races slower and a wooden wall erected atop the curve where Kumaritashvili flew off his sled. Padding was added to steel girders beyond the wall.

Kumaritashvili's father, David Kumaritashvili, said that his son told him shortly before the accident that he was afraid of the new, high-speed track, but was intent on competing. His father angrily denounced claims that his son was to blame, and defended him as a skilled luger.

"He mustn't be blamed," the 46-year-old father, a Soviet-era luger, told The Associated Press. "He was thrown out, but why had they failed to build a protective barrier for such a case?"

By Associated Press  |  February 17, 2010; 9:43 AM ET
Categories:  Luge  
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