WHISTLER, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Like many Olympians before him, Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili arrived at the Vancouver Games thrilled to be a competitor but with no illusions about his prospects.
The 21-year-old, who died in a horrific luge practice crash only hours before the opening ceremony on Friday, was a man who could hope for little more than to say he had been there and raced against the best.
A man who had looked forward to being part of the Olympic family.
“Nodar Kumaritashvili came to Canada with hopes and dreams that this would be a magnificent occasion in his life,” Vancouver organising committee (VANOC) head John Furlong, holding back tears, told a sombre news conference.
“I’m told by members of his federation that he was an incredibly spirited young person and he came here to be able to feel what it is like to be able to call yourself an Olympian.”
He finished 28th out of 32 competitors in his last World Cup event at Cesana in the Italian Dolomites in January.
Italian Armin Zoeggeler, who is chasing his third successive Olympic gold in Whistler, had a total combined time more than five seconds quicker — en eternity in the sport.
A spokesman for the International Luge Federation (FIL) said Kumaritashvili had competed in five World Cup races with a similar lack of success.
Despite that, as a shocked International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge told reporters, he had pursued his passion.
“He had a dream of competing in the Olympic Games, he trained hard and he had this fatal accident. I have no words to say what we feel,” said Rogge, himself a former Olympic athlete, after speaking to the slider’s family and Georgian president. Kumaritashvili was making his final practice slide before Saturday’s competition when he lost control at 90mph on the exit of the 16th corner and was launched over the rim of the track before crumpling into a pillar.
He was given emergency resuscitation at the scene by medical staff before being flown down the mountain by helicopter where he died in hospital.
His father Selix is the head of the Georgian Luge Federation, which has one other slider entered in the competition.
Georgia have never won a medal at the Winter Olympics, having made their debut as an independent state at the 1994 Lillehammer Games.
Figure skater Elene Gedevanishvili, 10th in the women’s singles in Turin in 2006 and now a European bronze medallist, has been the former Soviet Republic’s most successful athlete.
Kumaritashvili came from Borjomi, a town of some 14,500 people in south-central Georgia famed in the region for its mineral water and mountain scenery.
The town was put forward by Georgia as an applicant city for the 2014 Olympics which will be held by Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi. (Editing by Ed Osmond, To query or comment on this story firstname.lastname@example.org)