Tragedy has struck the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, just hours before the Opening Ceremonies in Canada. Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed during practice at the Whistler luge tack.
The 21-year-old slider was approaching the a final turn on the twisting track when he crashed and was thrown from his sled and smashed his head against a metal pole adjacent to the track.
The accident was the second time the Georgian slider had wrecked during training on the steep track, where speeds can reach 150 kilometers per hour.
At an afternoon news conference, a visibly shaken IOC president Jacques Rogge said that the accident affected the whole Olympic family.
"Here you have a young athlete who lost his life in pursuing his passion. He had the 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," he said.
Vancouver Organizing Committee CEO John Furlong said that the tragedy has cast a pall over what should have been a happy day for the athletes, for Canada and for the Olympics.
"We are heartbroken beyond words to be sitting here. I am so sorry to be in this position to be reporting this to you. It is not something that I am prepared for, ever thought I would be prepared for," he said.
An investigation is underway into the accident. Before Friday's crash, several luge teams had criticized Canadian organizers for not allowing more access to the Whistler track. Olympic officials did not say whether the competition would be postponed because of the crash.