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Georgian luger dies after Olympic training crash

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - A men's Olympic luger from the country of Georgia died Friday after a nearly 90 mph crash on a track that is the world's fastest and has raised safety concerns among competitors.

A tearful IOC president Jacques Rogge said the death just hours before the opening ceremony "clearly casts a shadow over these games."

Nodar Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled during a training run, went over the track wall and struck an unpadded steel support beam near the finish line at Whistler Sliding Center. Paramedics and doctors were unable to revive the 21-year-old luger, who was pronounced dead at a hospital, the International Olympic Committee said.

Before speaking at a news conference, Rogge took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes and said, "Sorry, it's a bit difficult to remain composed."

"Here you have a young athlete that lost his life in pursuing his passion," Rogge added. "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."

Rogge said he was in contact with Kumaritashvili's family. Georgia's Minister of Culture and Sport Nikolos Rurua said Friday night that Georgia's athletes at the Games and "will dedicate their performances to their fallen comrade."

An investigation into the crash started quickly, although Rogge said this was not the time to talk about it. The men's luge competition is to begin Saturday.

Rescue workers were at Kumaritashvili's side within seconds. Chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation started less than a minute after the crash, and he was quickly airlifted to a trauma center in Whistler.

The first sign Kumaritashvili was in trouble came only three seconds before the crash on Curve 13, the most perilous turn, as he was going 89.4 mph - his best during six training runs on this track - so almost certainly his fastest speed ever.

Kumaritashvili's path entering the curve had him traveling along a higher route than most racers prefer. He careened out of control off the left wall, separating from his sled. He hit the right wall, was thrown violently back toward the left wall, went over the top of it and smashed into the beam. He lay motionless on a walkway and was quickly attended to.

The rest of men's training was canceled for the day, with VANOC officials saying an investigation was taking place to "ensure a safe field of play."

Team USA skeleton racer John Daly of Smithtown is scheduled to compete on the same track starting Thursday. Skeleton racers lie face down on their sleds; luge racers recline on theirs.

The danger of the Whistler track has been talked about for months - particularly after several countries, including the United States, were upset over access restrictions for everyone but Canada.

New York Sports