Private service held for Georgian luger

Private service held for Georgian luger

Published Feb. 15, 2010 12:00 a.m. ET

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."