Speaking from a small mountain community in Georgia, John Furlong said he couldn’t imagine missing the graveside ceremony for the luger who died on the opening day of the Vancouver Olympics.

“I’ll never forget today, ever,” VANOC’s CEO said.

Athletes and International Olympic Committee representatives from around the world joined Furlong, who left the Paralympics closing ceremonies early to make it to Bakuriani — Nodar Kumaritashvili’s hometown and a winter sports resort.

Just about every resident of the village also attended the ceremony, which was held 40 days after Kumaritashvili’s death, in line with Georgian Orthodox Church rites.

An Orthodox priest read a prayer and local men sang traditional Georgian chants over the grave.

“It was obviously a very important day for the community, hundreds and hundreds of people came to show their respects,” Furlong said. “I told them (Kumaritashvili’s parents) how sorry every Canadian was to have this happen.”

The athlete’s father, David Kumaritashvili, said in a speech at the ceremony his son’s death shouldn’t discourage young men from practising luge.

“The tragic death of my son mustn’t stop the development of that sport.”

Georgian Olympic Committee chief Georgy Natsvlishvili said he would like for a luge track to be built in Bakuriani in the luger’s memory, which the IOC said it will help fund.

Furlong said the community plans to honour Nodar’s name by using it to build its sport legacy and attract events. He added that VANOC will be exploring ways to further help the family, which is also receiving an insurance payout.

Kumaritashvili died when he lost control of his sled at nearly 145 kilometres an hour, flew off the course and slammed into a trackside steel pole.

At their home, the family has decorated a room in the athlete’s memory, placing his sports uniform on his bed next to the flag of Georgia.

“We visited Nodar’s bedroom and we left behind all the memorabilia that had been gathered in Whistler (at Kumaritashvili’s memorial),” Furlong said.
With files from the Associated Press