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President of Georgia: 'No sports mistake is supposed to lead to a death'

February 13, 2010 |  2:50 pm

The president of the Republic of Georgia, speaking to reporters a day after one of his nation’s athletes died in a luge training run, raised concerns about the design of what is the world’s fastest track at the Whistler Sliding Center.

Olyblog “There were questions being asked about this place,” President Mikheil Saakashvili said. “There were suggestions that the wall should have been higher there.”

Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed when he lost control of his sled at about 80 mph, flipped over the lip of the track and slammed into an unpadded roof support post. Saakashvili reacted to suggestions that the 21-year-old athlete lacked the necessary experience to handle the course.

“They said that what happened yesterday was because of human error,” the president said. “Well, with all due respect … one thing I know for sure, that no sports mistake is supposed to lead to a death.”

Even some veteran lugers had previously commented on the difficulty of the Whistler track. Officials are now extending the wall along the lip, Saakashvili said.

“But I think the best news would be if, in the future, they listen more to the grievances of sportsmen,” he said. “And we don’t have to do things in the aftermath.”

Also speaking on Saturday, Georgian figure skater Omar Japaridze offered a few more details about his largely unknown teammate.

“I met him here,” Japaridze said. “He was very excited.”

Kumaritashvili’s father had been a luger and his uncle, who was his trainer, had previously worked with the French national team. Shortly before his fatal run, he called home to his parents to tell them that they “would be proud of him,” Saakashvili said.

The Georgian government hopes to construct a sliding track – the country currently has none – and name it after Kumaritashvili, who was forced to train at facilities throughout Europe.

The Georgians said they were grateful for the support they had received from the Canadian people.

“Of course we all are in a big shock from what happened " Friday, Japaridze said. “Despite this tragic event our team will carry on with the dream of Nodar and compete in his honor.”

-- David Wharton in Vancouver, Canada

Photo: President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili. Credit: Kim Ludwick, EPA.

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