The father of a Georgian luger killed during a training run at the Vancouver Olympics said Monday 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: Dad, I really fear that curve,” David Kumaritashvili, a former Soviet-era luger, told The Associated Press at his home in the snow-covered slopes of Georgia’s top ski resort. He said the two spoke by phone shortly before the fatal run.
“I’m a former athlete myself, and I told him: ’You just take a slower start,”’ Kumaritashvili recalled. “But he responded: ‘Dad, what kind of thing you are teaching me? I have come to the Olympics to try to win.”’
Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, died during Friday practice when he lost control of his sled and slammed into a trackside steel pole at nearly 90 mph. After the crash, the poles were wrapped in padding and the course was altered to make it slower.
“He told me: I will either win or die,” the elder Kumaritashvili said, and then paused. “But that was youthful bravado, he couldn’t be seriously talking about death.”
The International Olympic Committee and luge officials have taken criticism for blaming the accident on Kumaritashvili’s failure to make tactical corrections during his run, and for saying they were changing the course not to make it safer but to soothe the emotions of the athletes.
Concerns about the course, the world’s fastest, had been raised for months. There were worries that the $100 million-plus venue was too technically demanding, and that only Canada’s sliders would have enough time to adapt to it in practice.
“They tested that track on my son,” the elder Kumaritashvili, 46, said bitterly.
“My son was training since he was 14, he ran tracks in France, Austria and Canada, and he never suffered an injury,” he said. “He has passed through all stages of the World Cup and made it to the Olympics, he couldn’t have done that if he were an inexperienced athlete. Anyone can make mistake and break a leg or suffer some other injury. But to die!”
Kumaritashvili is to be buried in his hometown of Bukuriani, a small ski resort about 110 miles from Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet republic. His death has devastated the community, and a steady stream of neighbors and friends have been bringing flower sprays and condolences to his family.
Kumaritashvili’s body will leave Monday afternoon on a flight to Germany and will then be flown to Georgia for arrival early Wednesday, a senior Olympic official told The Associated Press. The official spoke anonymously because the plans were being kept private.
The luger was the pride of his hometown, where he was loved for his high spirits and generosity.
David Gureshidze, a 28-year-old friend, said that Nodar was loved by children of the village, and had taught many of them to ski.
“He spent most of his time abroad, but he would never miss a chance to visit home and would bring gifts to everyone,” Gureshidze said.
The Kumaritashvilis’ neighbor, Gogi Laliyev, said the athlete was fond of Laliyev’s 4-year old son and promised to bring him a toy rifle from Vancouver.
“We told the boy that Nodar won’t come back, and he asked why,” Laliyev said. “We said that he died and my son asked: ‘Won’t he come back to life?’ We said no, and he broke into tears.”