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Tragedy overshadows Olympic opening

13 lutego, 2010

The Winter Olympics was thrown into turmoil on Friday when a Georgian luger was killed in a horrific crash just hours ahead of the Games\' official opening.

Hundreds of millions of television viewers are expected to watch the ceremony starting at 6pm (0200 GMT Saturday), culminating years of planning with some 2,500 athletes from 82 nations competing in the February 12-28 showpiece.

But organisers were faced with their worst nightmare when Georgia\'s Nodar Kumaritashvili died after flying off the Olympic luge track at high speed and smashing into a metal pillar during a training run.

The 21-year-old was knocked unconscious and immediately placed on a stretcher with blood pouring from his face before being air-lifted to hospital and pronounced dead.

"This is a very sad day. The International Olympic Committee is in deep mourning," said a visibly shaken IOC chief Jacques Rogge.

"Here you have a young athlete who lost his life in pursuing his passion.

"He had a dream to participate in the Olympic Games. He trained hard and he had this fatal accident. I have no words to say what we feel."

Georgia\'s shellshocked eight-man team, now reduced to seven, may pull out of the Vancouver Games.

"Their decision is not final, but they are considering their participation. But they have not confirmed yet," Rogge said.

The track is widely-regarded as one of the most dangerous in the sport and there had been several scares in the past few days, with 2002 and 2006 gold medalist Armin Zoeggler of Italy also crashing but escaping unhurt.

Deaths at Winter Olympics With tragedy hanging over the Games, organisers continued to battle warm weather in Vancouver and on nearby Cypress Mountain, the host of the freestyle events.

Tonnes of snow have had to be driven and helicoptered in from higher elevations to Cypress, and forecast rain and high winds have further complicated matters.

Up at Whistler, site of the blue-riband alpine skiing events, it is not a case of no snow but too much snow.

The poor conditions and a lack of training runs forced the women\'s opening alpine skiing event, the super-combined scheduled for Sunday, to be postponed until a yet to be decided day.

The men\'s downhill event is set for Saturday morning, but with more rain and snow forecast overnight, that too could be in jeopardy.

Despite the conditions, the Olympics officially got underway at Whistler with ski jump qualifiying as 51 jumpers battled for the 40 available places.

The Games\' build-up culminates with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at BC Place in Vancouver later Friday, a ceremony held indoors for the first time in the competition\'s history.

The identity of the athlete who will have the honor of lighting it is a tightly-guarded secret, but it signals the end of a marathon which has seen the Olympic torch cross 45,000km of the country.

It met small-scale protests on the final leg on Friday.

Around 100 demonstrators, protesting over the financial and environmental impact of the Olympics, blocked the relay route, sparking a security headache.

Eleven venues are being used for the Games, from the Games BC Place where the opening and closing ceremonies are held to Canada Hockey Place, which hosts the ice hockey and where the home nation starts as men\'s gold medal favourites,

In all, 15 sports will be contested with Germany and Canada the bookmakers\' tips to top the medal table, with the United States, South Korea and Japan also challenging.