Today's Date: 27 June 2016
Last Updated: 11 January 2016 17:07:40 EST
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Olympic luger dies in course crash

VANCOUVER—A Georgian athlete died Friday after flying off the treacherous luge course at the Winter Olympics.

A German Olympic official confirmed Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death to the Star’s Dave Perkins Friday afternoon.

The Georgian Olympic team's chef de mission later told the Star's Petti Fong that Kumaritashvili was dead.

“He died about an hour ago,” a weeping Irakli Japaridze told Fong and two Georgian newspaper reporters in a telephone interview. “It's a big tragedy.”

Officials said they were trying to reach the young man's family in Georgia, a former republic of the Soviet Union.

Perkins was on the scene and said Kumaritashvili careered off the track on his run shortly before 11 a.m. Pacific time and crashed into an unpadded steel pole at the side of the course at the Whistler sliding centre.

Emergency crews arrived within minutes and were seen performing chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Kumaritashvili, who was taken to a nearby hospital by helicopter.

The Borjomi, Georgia native was 21 years old and is one of eight Georgian athletes competing at the Games.

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.

“He was not our famous athlete but people in Georgia knew him,” one Georgian reporter told Fong. “Luge is not that big a sport.”

“This was his first Olympics, his first time here” another reporter told Fong. “He was excited. He wanted to do well.”

CTV luge analyst Chris Wightman said experienced lugers aren't having problems on the course but that less experienced riders are finding it hugely challenging.

Wightman suggested that plexiglass or some other protective material could be added to the curve where Kumaritashvili flew off the course.

At the finish area, not far from the crash scene, athletes, coaches and officials solemnly awaited word on Kumaritashvili.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Shiva Keshavan, a four-time Olympian from India.

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