The 2010 Winter Olympics are beginning under a black cloud after a young luge competitor died in a high-speed practice crash.
Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed in training at the lightning-quick Whistler Sliding Centre.
The 21-year-old lost control on the final bend and was launched over the rim of the track, slamming into a pillar at 145 kilometres per hour. The tragedy happened just hours ahead of the opening ceremony in Vancouver.
The President of the International Olympic Committee struggled to contain his emotion.
“Sorry, it is difficult to remain composed,” said a visibly-upset Jacques Rogge in a news conference. “This is a very sad day. The IOC is in deep mourning. 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…”
Safety concerns had been raised about the track, considered the fastest in the world. Georgia says its athletes will stay and compete in the Games as a tribute to their “fallen comrade.”