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.”