Private service held for Georgian luger
The Olympic luger killed in a crash was honored with prayers and
candles at a memorial service Monday, his body beginning the long
journey home to his devastated village in Georgia.
Grieving teammates and officials, as well as international
and Vancouver organizers, attended the brief private service for
Nodar Kumaritashvili at a Vancouver funeral home.
The brown casket was placed in a gray hearse and driven away
with a police motorcycle escort. Later in the day, the body was
being taken on a flight to Germany, where it will then be flown to
Georgia for burial in Bakuriani.
“He’s on his way home,” said Patrick Hickey, head of the
European Olympic Committees.
The 21-year-old luger died during training Friday hours
before the opening ceremony. He lost control of his sled on the
lightning-fast track in Whistler and slammed into a trackside steel
pole at nearly 90 mph.
The president of Georgia’s Olympic Committee, Gia
Natsvlishili, was accompanying Kumaritashvili’s body back to
Georgia. Hickey said the casket would be received in Georgia by
Patriarch Ilia II.
Tears streaming down his face, senior Georgian Olympic
official Ramaz Goglidze said Kumaritashvili’s village of 1,500
people remained in deep mourning.
“For every family in the village it’s a tragedy,” he said.
“Even people who never met him cry all day, everyone.”
About two dozen people attended Monday’s service, including
Kumaritashvili’s uncle and coach, Felix, who broke into tears
outside the funeral home.
Three Georgian athletes, including figure skater Otar
Japaridze, wearing a black armband on his red team jacket, were
there. So were several Georgians who live in Vancouver and came to
pay respects, carrying flowers and candles.
The mourners gathered on the street, consoling each other,
before going inside where Kumaritashvili’s body was in an open
casket. Members of the Georgian team filed past and touched the
body. Others lit candles and said prayers.
“People stood around in shock and sorrow,” Hickey said.
“There were no speeches. People had their own private moment,
reflecting on the situation. It was a really solemn occasion,
everyone so unified standing around sharing in the sorrow.”
Ten people — including Vancouver organizing committee
head John Furlong — carried the casket out of the building
and placed it in the back of the hearse. Furlong and Hickey shook
hands with each of the 14 yellow-jacketed Vancouver motorcycle
policemen, who then escorted the hearse away.
Furlong said organizers helped expedite Canadian formalities
so the luger’s body could be returned home as soon as possible.
“It was extremely moving and heartbreaking to be there,”
Furlong said. “We did the best we could to bring the appropriate
environment to bring closure to what happened here.”