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Georgian luger honored at Vancouver service

| Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Georgian luger killed in a crash was honored with prayers and candles at a memorial service Monday, with his Olympic teammates filing past to pay respects and the head of the Vancouver Games helping carry the casket.

Escorted by police, the body of Nodar Kumaritashvili began its long journey from a Vancouver funeral home to his ski-resort hometown, where it was to be received by a Georgian spiritual leader.

"He's on his way home," said Patrick Hickey, head of the European Olympic Committees.

Three Georgian athletes, including figure skater Otar Japaridze, wearing a black armband on his red team jacket, attended yesterday's service, filing past the open casket to touch the body of their fallen teammate.

Kumaritashvili's uncle and coach, Felix, broke into tears outside the funeral home.

Vancouver organizing committee head John Furlong was among 10 people who carried the casket out of the building and placed it in the back of the hearse. Furlong and Hickey shook hands with each of 14 Vancouver motorcycle police officers, who then escorted the hearse away.

"It was extremely moving and heartbreaking to be there," Furlong said. "We did the best we could to bring the appropriate environment to bring closure to what happened here."

Furlong said organizers helped expedite Canadian formalities so the luger's body could be returned home as soon as possible.

The president of Georgia's Olympic Committee, Gia Natsvlishili, was accompanying Kumaritashvili's body back to Georgia. It was to leave Vancouver late last night. Hickey said the casket would be received in Georgia by Patriarch Ilia II.

Tears streaming down his face, senior Georgian Olympic official Ramaz Goglidze said Kumaritashvili's hometown of Bakuriani, a village of about 1,500 people, remained in deep mourning.

"For every family in the village it's a tragedy," he said. "Even people who never met him cry all day, everyone."

The young luger's father, David Kumaritashvili, told The Associated Press in Georgia yesterday that his son worried the track was too dangerous but insisted on competing because he had come to the games to try to win.

"He told me: I will either win or die," David Kumaritashvili told The Associated Press. "But that was youthful bravado. He couldn't be seriously talking about death."

The Kumaritashvilis' neighbor, Gogi Laliyev, said the athlete was fond of Laliyev's 4-year-old son and promised to bring him a toy rifle from Vancouver.

"We told the boy that Nodar won't come back, and he asked why," Laliyev said. "We said that he died, and my son asked: 'Won't he come back to life?' We said no, and he broke into tears."

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