“With all due respect, no sports mistake is supposed to lead to a death. Common sense tells me: yes, there can be mistakes. I don’t think mistakes should lead to death.”
—Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, speaking to reporters about the international luge federation decision that athlete error, not the track, was to blame for the tragic death of of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, this afternoon, at Vancouver’s Main Press Centre.
The Georgian president stopped short of accusing anyone of negligence: he noted that “questions had been raised” about Whistler’s sliding centre, including “some suggestions that the wall should have been higher.” The “good news,” he said, “is that they’ve built it up now, but I think the best news in the future, listen more to the grievances of sportsmen, listen more to the sensitivities—so we don’t have to do these things in the aftermath.”
In a heartbreaking moment, Saakashvili told reporters that he had spoken, by phone, to Kumaritashvili’s parents in Bakuriani. They told the president that their 21-year-old son had phoned home just before his run at Whistler yesterday, to tell them they would be proud of him.
Saakashvili also addressed the question of whether the young racer had received the appropriate training at home, in Georgia. He acknowledged that the country was rebuilding its sports infrastructure, and that Georgian sliders have, therefore, had to train elsewhere in Europe. But he said the tragedy should not be blamed on either “inexperience, or lack of facilities.” A new sliding centre was already being planned for Bakuriani, he said, and would be named in honour of Kumaritashvili.
Saakashvili commended the decision of Georgia’s athletes to remain in Vancouver. It was “the right” decision, he said: “the Olympic movement is all about perseverance. It’s all about unbroken spirit. It’s about future and strength. No matter what their tragedy, it’s about being the future. It’s about carrying on.”
Saakashvili, who was dressed in a blue suit, thanked Canadians for the warmth, support and kindness they have shown the Georgian delegation in the past two days. His tone and mood stood in contrast to sombre, sometimes teary-eyed media addresses yesterday, in the hours following the accident, from Georgia’s sports minister, Nikolos Rurua, IOC president Jacques Rogge, and Games organizer, John Furlong.