IOC Confirms Olympic Luger Dies After Crash

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - A men's Olympic luger from the country of Georgia died Friday after a high-speed crash during training. IOC president Jacques Rogge said the death hours before the opening ceremony "clearly casts a shadow over these games."

Nodar Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled, went over the
track wall and struck an unpadded steel pole near the finish line
at Whistler Sliding Center. Doctors were unable to revive the
21-year-old luger, who died at a hospital, the International
Olympic Committee said.

Rescue workers were at his side within seconds, chest
compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation started less than one
minute after the crash, and he was quickly airlifted to a trauma
center in Whistler.

Kumaritashvili struck the inside wall of the track on the final
turn. His body immediately went airborne and cleared the ice-coated
concrete wall along the left side of the sliding surface. His sled
remained in the track, and it appeared his helmet visor skidded
down the ice.

 "It's a very rare situation," three-time Olympic champion and
German coach Georg Hackl said before learning of the death and was
clearly shaken moments after seeing Kumaritashvili tended to
furiously by medical officials.

 Olympic competition in men's luge is scheduled to begin
Saturday. It's unclear if that schedule would be affected.

 It was Kumaritashvili's second crash during training for the
Vancouver Games. He also failed to finish his second of six
practice runs, and in the runs he did finish, his average speed was
about 88 mph - significantly less than the speed the top sliders
are managing on this lightning-fast course.

  It was unclear how fast Kumaritashvili was going, although many
sliders have exceeded 90 mph on this course. The track is
considered the world's fastest and several Olympians recently
questioned its safety. More than a dozen athletes have crashed
during Olympic training for luge, and some questioned whether
athletes from smaller nations - like Georgia - had enough time to
prepare for the daunting track.

  At the finish area, not far from where Kumaritashvili lost
control, athletes, coaches and officials solemnly awaited word on
Kumaritashvili before eventually being ushered away. Access to the
crash area was closed within about 30 minutes.

 "I've never seen anything like that," said Shiva Keshavan, a
four-time Olympian from India.

 The remainder of men's training was canceled for the day, with
VANOC officials saying in a release that an investigation was
taking place to "ensure a safe field of play."

 Kumaritashvili competed in five World Cup races this season,
finishing 44th in the world standings.

 Earlier in the day, gold-medal favorite Armin Zoeggeler of Italy
crashed, losing control of his sled on Curve 11. Zoeggeler came off
his sled and held it with his left arm to keep it from smashing
atop his body. He slid on his back down several curves before
coming to a stop and walking away.

 Training days in Whistler have been crash-filled. A Romanian
woman was briefly knocked unconscious and at least four Americans -
Chris Mazdzer on Wednesday, Megan Sweeney on Thursday and both Tony
Benshoof and Bengt Walden on Friday in the same training session
where Zoeggeler wrecked - have had serious trouble just getting
down the track.

  "I think they are pushing it a little too much," Australia's
Hannah Campbell-Pegg said Thursday night after she nearly lost
control in training. "To what extent are we just little lemmings
that they just throw down a track and we're crash-test dummies? I
mean, this is our lives."

  At the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, Nicholas Bochatay of
Switzerland died after crashing into a snow grooming machine during
training for the demonstration sport of speed skiing on the
next-to-last day of the games. He was practicing on a public slope
before his event was to begin.

 Austrian downhill skier Ross Milne died when he struck a tree
during a training run shortly before the 1964 Winter Games in
Innsbruck, Austria. British luger Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypecki also
died in a crash during training in Innsbruck.

At the 1988 Calgary Games, an Austrian team doctor, Jorg
Oberhammer, died after being hit by a snow grooming machine.
      AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds and Tom Withers in Whistler
contributed to this report.

      (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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