Athletes, officials pay tribute to fallen luger

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BAKURIANI, Georgia --- An Orthodox priest read a prayer and local men sang traditional Georgian chants over the grave of Nodar Kumaritashvili, the luger killed during a practice run crash at last month's Olympics.

Mourners place flowers at the grave of Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luger killed during practice at the Olympics. A luge track will be built in his honor in his village. 
  Shakh Aivazov/Associated Press
Shakh Aivazov/Associated Press
Mourners place flowers at the grave of Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luger killed during practice at the Olympics. A luge track will be built in his honor in his village.

At a ceremony Tuesday in the cemetery of a tiny church in a mountain village, the athlete's father, David, said his son's death shouldn't discourage young men from competing in luge.

"The tragic death of my son mustn't stop the development of that sport," he said.

Vancouver organizing committee president John Furlong, luge gold medalist Felix Loch, International Luge Federation president Josef Fendt and other athletes and officials came to the hometown of Kumaritashvili, who died hours before the opening of the games Feb. 12.

"We feel the grief suffered by his family, especially his parents," Furlong said. "The people over there show how much they loved Nodar."

The ceremony was held 40 days after Kumaritashvili's death, in line with the rites of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Georgian Olympic Committee chief Georgy Natsvlishvili said a luge track will be built in Bakuriani in the luger's memory.

The International Olympic Committee has said it will help fund the track's construction in the village, once a winter sports training center for Soviet athletes and now Georgia's top winter sports resort. Bakuriani was part of the short-lived bid from the neighboring town of Borjomi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Before traveling to Georgia, Furlong said Sunday that he considered it his obligation to meet with the athlete's family.

"This obviously was a very major thing that happened here, and it's important for us to be there to the end," he said.

Kumaritashvili died when he lost control of his sled at nearly 90 mph, flew off the course and slammed into a trackside steel pole. An investigation by the luge federation concluded he was late in coming out of the next-to-last turn and failed to compensate. But the luger's family has blamed his death on the course's design.

The Kumaritashvilis decorated a room at their house in the athlete's memory, placing his sports uniform on his bed next to the flag of Georgia.

The athlete was a hero for his hometown, widely admired for his sports achievements and also high spirits and generosity.

A 4-year-old neighbor, Dmitry Laliyev, on Tuesday proudly carried a toy rifle that he had asked the luger to bring as a present from Canada. The athlete's parents found the toy in his luggage after his death.

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