VANCOUVER — I had some other things planned for my first day of Olympic blogging — amusing, trivial stuff — until I saw the video of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili coming around Turn 16 of the Whistler Sliding Center course. It came on CTV, Canada’s official Olympic network, while we were in the SI press center in Vancouver on Friday afternoon; at first, it was just a horrific video of a luger without a name, flying off of the track and slamming headfirst into a steel support beam while traveling more than 80 miles per hour. Then came news that Kumaritashvili had been airlifted out of Whistler to receive emergency treatment. Then news that he’d died, just hours before the opening cermony in Vancouver, and a day before men’s luge competition was supposed to begin on what had been billed the fastest track in Olympic history. Suddenly the mood at the Games had changed.
Updates trickled out of Whistler over the next couple of hours, and at approximately 1:45 p.m. in the Main Media Center in Vancouver, IOC president Jacques Rogge and Vancouver 2010 organizing committee CEO John Furlong held a press conference to discuss Kumaritashvili’s death. It was a crowded, tense affair — the complete opposite of the news conference I attended for the U.S. snowboard halfpipe team the day before.
I took an on-the-fly video of it here:
Rogge and Furlong each gave teary-eyed statements. Rogge’s began like this: “Sorry. It’s a bit difficult to remain composed. This a very sad day. The IOC is in deep mourning. Here you have a young athlete who lost his life in pursuing his passion. He had a dream to participate in the Olympic Games, he trained hard, and he had this fatal accident. I have no words to say what we feel.”
Roggie said the IOC was still investigating the crash, and had yet to decide whether the men’s luge competition would proceed as scheduled on Saturday. There was no word, either, from the Georgian delegation as to whether it had plans to withdraw from the games. Limited information was available on Kumaritashvili, who was ranked 44th in the world in luge, and had competed in five World Cup events this year. “He was not our famous athlete but people in Georgia knew him,” a Georgian reporter told the Toronto Star. “Luge is not that big a sport.”
The Star’s minute-by-minute timeline of the crash remains the most vivid description I’ve read on the Web:
10:46 β Someone in the press mixed zone says to watch out for this Georgian guy. He had a crash Wednesday.
10:46 β Coming off the final turn, the 21-year-old native of Borjomi, Georgia, loses control and, in a heartbeat, is airborne. He appears to hit a side wooden railing that extends about two feet above the track, but keeps flying to his left, off the track, and hits one of the 10-foot-tall steel poles that support the sun roof. He appears to hit it almost cross-body, travelling some 130 km/h. Television coverage is immediately shut down.
10:47 β Medical personnel arrived within seconds β the crash is no more than five or six metres from the track first-aid stationβbut the impact has been serious. Initial reaction from those watching on TV is that he would need a miracle to survive.
I’m off to the opening ceremony, where Vancouver’s celebration will go off against a backdrop of tragedy.