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Georgia: Tragedy strikes as Winter Olympic Games open

georgian team

In perhaps the most emotional moment of the Opening Ceremony, the crowd rises to give the Georgian athletes, led by Alpine skier Iason Abramashvili, a standing ovation following the tragic death of 21 year old luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili earlier in the day. Photo ©s.yume (Licensed under Creative Commons)

News about the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili a few hours before the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, broke out just after midnight the same day on a Georgian forum. The 21-year-old  died when he lost control of the luge during training near the final turn of the track at over 140km/h (about 90mp/h), thrown over the protective wall and hit a steel support pole. Kumaritashvili was airlifted to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Several hours after the accident, Georgia's Olympic Team, wearing black scarves and armbands and carrying a flag with a black ribbon, was greeted with a standing ovation at the opening ceremony. Near the end of the ceremony, Kumaritashvili was honored with a minute's silence.

Several Facebook groups and fan pages were created and joined by thousands of users who mostly expressing condolences to the family. Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was in Canada for a two-day visit, met with seven-person Georgian Olympic team and also asking them to attend the opening ceremony. Minister of Sports and Culture, Nikoloz Rurua, also said that a new luge track to be opened in Bakuriani, Georgia, will be named after Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Online, Twitter users commented on the tragedy.

@DeCap69: They should give Nodar Kumaritashvili a posthumous gold medal… that would be the classy thing to do to remember a fallen athlete…

Forums, as well as many international and Georgian media outlets, aired the footage of the tragic accident over and over again, outraging many and generating a large number of tweets.

@15minutesstupid Should the television networks be airing the death of Olympian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili http://www.15minutesofstupidity.com/

When the International Luge Federation declared that the fatal accident was not caused by an “unsafe track”, but rather because of “human error,” users of the Georgian forum, many of whom were using Nodar Kumaritashvili's picture with RIP on it, were convinced of the opposite.

werner-forum-quote

I just looked carefully and if there weren't these steel poles, he would be alive now. He would get hurt, but wouldn't die if there was an empty space instead of those poles, or if they weren't so close to each other. The organizers’ blunder caused the death of the guy. How can one be so irresponsible about someone's lives? Moreover, very experienced athletes had been badly hurt on that track. Shame on whoever built it.

Many Twitter users also expressed doubts about the official explanation.

@designspotnyc how can they blame the luger's death on inexperience? the articles i read yesterday prove that he was far from inexperienced. shame!

@thoughtsonthis Olympic Track Didn't Cause Luger's Death ??? Yes it did!: http://digg.com/d31IhkD?t #Digg (Via @ tvvitter)

google luger

Even Google faced some criticism when a new logo on its search engine page depicted a lugar for almost a full day, causing confusion worldwide among users who were uncertain whether it was out of respect for the dead athlete, coincidental or simply in bad taste.

@tara IMHO if Google is going to put a picture of a luger on their page, they should note respect to Nodar Kumaritashvili http://bit.ly/aGe4F3 #fb

@lisarowan: Google's Olympic graphic today is a luger – intentional or had been planned? don't know whether to like the tribute or hate the irony

Whether because of the confusion it created, criticism from many users online, or because of the time it took to design another logo, the logo was changed by the end of the day to a snowboarder. However, even that didn't go without comment on Twitter.

@steverubel Google swaps today's Olympic doodle from luge to snowboarding. Good move. Why didn't they think of this yesterday

RT @mashable: Our most retweeted post right now: “Google Pulls Olympic Luge Logo After Backlash” – http://bit.ly/d6ffKC

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