Nightly News   |  February 12, 2010

Deadly luge crash leaves Olympians in shock

Opening night at the Olympic Games in Vancouver was marred by the death of a luger from the Republic of Georgia during a practice run on Friday, raising concerns about the safety of a course reputed to be the fastest in the world. NBC's Chris Jansing reports. Some of the images are graphic.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> on.

>>> sadly tonight, we have to begin our reporting from here with a tragic story. these games are off to a sad start before being officially under way. and an early warning here, the videotape of what happened here today may be tough for a lot of folks to watch. a competitor in the luge was killed here today during a practice run. everybody knew the luge track here was the fastest in the world. today it turned violently unsafe. we will begin with nbc's chris jansing about 90 miles north of here at whistler where luge and alpine skiing are held. good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. understandably, this accident shent shock waves through the olympic community. i want to reiterate this video is very difficult to watch. here in the village of whistler, they have large video screens set up and people were watching it. there was a loud, audible gasp that went up when people saw what happened there. the international luge federation is investigating, trying to figure out what the conditions were that led to the crash that killed this young slider who was to have competed at his first olympics. the sled was on the final turn of the track when the devastating accident happened. nodar kumaritashvili of the former soviet republic of georgia lost control , went airborne over a concrete wall and struck an unpadded steel wall just feet from the finish line. emergency personnel were on the seat in a minute and nodar kumaritashvili was quickly air-lifted to a trauma center .

>> we are heart broken beyond words to be sitting here.

>> reporter: earlier in the day, the two-time defending men's gold crashed on the track. two of more than a dozen accidents in this olympic training.

>> speeds are high, it's a dangerous course. however, this shouldn't have happened.

>> reporter: at 21, kumaritashvili is young for a luger. inexperienced by international standards . he was ranked 44th in the world, but there hadn't been a fatal luge accident in the olympics in 46 years.

>> sorry. it's a bit difficult to remain composed. this is a very sad day. here you have a young athlete who lost his life in pursuing his passion. he had a dream to participate in the olympic games . i have no words to say what we feel.

>> reporter: in a split second, a young man's dream turned into international heartbreak. shortly after this crash, i spoke with erin hamelin, the reigning women's world luge champion from upstate new york . as you can imagine, this is a very small community. they travel together, train together and compete together. many of their families know each other and they shall absolutely devastated. brian?

>> chris jansing up on the hill tonight. chris, you're absolutely right. it will be tough for this not to set the tone for the start of these games. part of the whole debate over how fast is too fast? as we said, the tragedy as