Athlete's death overshadows opening of Olympics

But decision of Georgian team not to pull out gives a boost to Winter Games hit by technological breakdown and a lack of snow

Heavy rain made snow too slushy to ski on as the 2010 Winter Olympics made a stuttering start in Vancouver yesterday under the pall of the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili.

The Georgian luger, 21, was killed during training on Friday after flipping off the track at the Whistler Sliding Center and crashing into an unpadded steel pole at 90 miles per hour. Safety concerns had been raised before the accident with a dozen competitors crashing on practice runs.

Georgia's Olympic team initially considered pulling out of the Games but the country's culture minister, Nikolos Rurua, said yesterday: "Our athletes decided to be loyal to the spirit of the Olympic Games and they will compete and dedicate their performance to their fallen comrade."

The US Vice-President, Joe Biden said: "This is a nation that has gone through an awful lot in the last three, four years. It's a small nation of five million people and they had pride in representing their country here at the Olympics and now to suffer this loss is just tragic."

Tributes were paid to Kumaritashvili during a muted opening ceremony which strove to combine sombre reflection with celebration, only to suffer from an embarrassing technical hitch.

Four pillars were meant to appear from out of the ground in the BC Stadium so that they could be lit with the Olympic flame, but due to a mechanical malfunction only three rose to the occasion. As flustered organisers looked on, the Canadian speed skater Catriona Le May Doan was left with nothing to light.

The Olympic torch had only just made it to the stadium after protesters tried to block its way. Mounted police changed the route to avoid clashes in the street.

In a city showing little sign of the authorities having got a grip on chronic homelessness and drug addiction, two out of three Vancouverites think the £5bn expense of the Games is hard to justify and the angriest residents tried to disrupt the celebrations.

All this while, in the distance, Cypress Mountain mocks the organisers with its lack of the main ingredient for any winter Games: Snow.

The missing white stuff, which is absent due to unseasonably mild weather and a lack of blizzards throughout January, has meant hundreds of thousands of tons of snow being trucked and airlifted from higher climes.

Yesterday heavy rain soaked the slopes, making conditions too slushy for races, including the men's downhill alpine ski, to go ahead. It is supposed to be a glamour event to give the Winter Olympics a big kick-off but is now unlikely to be run until tomorrow. The women's event has also been delayed and training runs on the slopes have been cancelled.

The good news for organisers is that the 1.6 million tickets for the Games have virtually sold out and 60,000 people turned out for the opening ceremony. There was a slower uptake in Turin, Italy, four years ago.

John Furlong, the chief executive of the Vancouver Olympic Organising Committee, acknowledged that the shadow of Kumaritashvili's death hung over the Games but said the way the athletes had responded had given everyone "a lift".

He said: "Hopefully as the sporting events begin, the athletes will feed off this energy and we will have extraordinary competition and lots of thrills before the Games are over."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen