Sportsman has become a hero in his homeland


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The Independent Online

Nodar Kumaritashvili's death shocked his hometown, the picturesque resort of Bakuriani nestled 1,700 metres up in the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains.

The community has immortalised the athlete by building a luge track in his memory.

The town, with only 1,500 residents, has a long and proud history of winter sports and many people shared Kumaritashvili's passion for luging and his dreams of one day becoming an Olympic champion. His father was a luger on the Soviet national team; his uncle is a luge coach with the Georgian Olympic squad and was with him at the time of the crash. Kumaritashvili's grandfather built the first luge track in Bakuriani in 1973.

Thousands turned out for Kumaritashvili's funeral, including Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili, and the 21-year-old luger is remembered as a hero in his home country.

His friends described him as a sociable, intelligent young man who had a wide range of interests outside luging. The year before he died he earned a degree in economics.

The street in Bakuriani on which he grew up has been renamed after him, and there has even been a commemorative stamp featuring his portrait.

The authorities have also pledged to build a luge course to replace the town's dilapidated track, closed in 2009.

Olympic-standard athletes such as Kumaritashvili had been forced to travel to other European countries to practice, and many feared Bakuriani's long history of producing lugers could be under threat.

The new course, which has not yet opened, will be named after Kumaritashvili.