Dad: Luger Feared Track Before Fatal Crash

David Kumaritashvili, father of Nodar Kumaritashvili, Georgia luger killed on an Olympic training run, shows a photo his son e-mailed from Vancouver, in Bakuriani, Georgia, Monday, Feb. 15, 2010. Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, died during Friday practice when he lost control of his sled and slammed into a trackside pole . (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov

The father of the Georgian luger killed at the Vancouver Olympics said Monday 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: I will either win or die," David Kumaritashvili told The Associated Press. "But that was youthful bravado, he couldn't be seriously talking about death."

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The father, in an interview at his home in the snow-covered slopes of Georgia's top ski resort, said he had spoken to his son, Nodar, shortly before the fatal training run Friday.

"He told me: Dad, I really fear that curve," the elder Kumaritashvili said. "I'm a former athlete myself, and I told him: 'You just take a slower start.' 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 when he lost control of his sled, flew off the course and slammed into a steel pole at nearly 90 mph. After the crash, the poles were wrapped in padding and the course was altered to make it slower.

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!"

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has also criticized organizers, saying that an athlete's mistake shouldn't result in his death.

Saakashvili called Kumaritashvili's father and promised that his son's body will be flown home as quickly as formalities allow.

A private service for Kumaritashvili was held Monday at a Vancouver funeral home attended by several Georgian athletes and team officials as well as international and Vancouver organizers.



Afterward, his brown casket was placed in a gray hearse and driven away with a police escort of 14 motorcycles.

The body is to leave Monday afternoon on a flight to Germany and will 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.

Kumaritashvili is to be buried in his hometown of Bakuriani, a small ski resort about 110 miles from Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet republic. His death has devastated the community. Neighbors and friends have been bringing flower sprays and offering condolences to his family.

The luger was the pride of his hometown, where he was known for his high spirits and generosity. The village of 1,500 was one of the sites Georgia proposed in its failed bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

David Gureshidze, a 28-year-old friend of Kumaritashvili, admired the young athlete's commitment to his sport.

"I have never seen such a dedicated person, sports was everything to him," Gureshidze said. "I taught him skiing, and in several months he was skiing better than me."

Gureshidze said that Nodar was well-liked 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 athlete's 20-year-old cousin, Givi Kharazishvili, said Nodar Kumaritashvili was driven by high ambitions. "He had a dream of winning the Olympics," he 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."

A steel cable slung between the two trees in Laliyev's yard served as an exercise tool for Kumaritashvili, who walked the cable to perfect his balance.

While maintaining a rigorous training and competition schedule, Nodar Kumaritashvili graduated from the Tbilisi Polytechnic University, where he received a bachelor's degree in economics last year.

His mother was keen to see him marry, but between his studies and his sport, he had little time to date, the elder Kumaritashvili said.

The family house was only recently rebuilt after a fire in 2003, seven years to the day before Nodar's death.

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