BAKURIANI - The body of the Georgian luger killed during a practice run at the Vancouver Olympics arrived Wednesday at his hometown, where his grief-stricken mother threw herself on his coffin and cried: "Why have I survived you?"
Nodar Kumaritashvili's body arrived in a flag-draped coffin at the Georgian capital's airport before dawn, met by relatives and onlookers. The 21-year-old is to be buried Saturday at a churchyard in Bakuriani, a village of about 1,500 located in one of Georgia's most popular winter sports regions.
Then it was taken to the family home in Bakuriani, where a wake was held. His mother, Dodo Kharazishvili, threw herself on the casket; later an ambulance team was called to treat her.
Kumaritashvili was killed during Friday practice when he lost control of his sled and slammed into a trackside steel pole at nearly 145 kilometres an hour. Olympic and luge federation officials blamed the accident on the athlete, saying he was late in coming out of the next-to-last turn and failed to compensate.
Concerns about the course, the world's fastest, had been raised for months. Many worried that the US$100 million-plus venue was too technically demanding, and that only Canada's sliders would have enough time to adapt to it during practice.
At the wake, hundreds of mourners flocked to the Kumaritashvili house, on a street that local authorities have renamed in Kumaritashvili's honour. Many struggled to contain their tears.
Among the mourners was Levan Gureshidze, a fellow Olympic luger who grew up and trained with Kumaritashvili but withdrew from the Olympics after his friend's death. He said he could not bear to compete after the accident that took his teammate's life.
"How could I take part in competition after that?" he said, tears filling his eyes.
Another athlete from Bakuriani, Alpine skier Iason Abramashvili, chose to stay in Vancouver.
"He cried, he was under terrible stress, but he finally chose to stay and compete in Nodar's memory," said the skier's father, Valiko Abramashvili.
Hundreds of mourners flocked to the Kumaritashvilis' house for the wake.
The athlete's coach and uncle, Felix Kumaritashvili, blamed the death on organizers. "The main reason of his death is that the retaining wall was low," he said.
He added that shades put on the track by organizers without advance warning also may have contributed to the tragedy.
"Without any preliminary warning they put shades on the track while Nodar was sliding," he said. "Because of the shades he could not see the track before him, he could not see the curve."
After the crash, luge events were moved down the track to make races slower and a wooden wall erected atop the curve where Kumaritashvili flew off his sled. Padding was added to steel girders beyond the wall.
Kumaritashvili's father, David Kumaritashvili, said that his son told him shortly before the accident that he was afraid of the new, high-speed track, but was intent on competing. His father angrily denounced claims that his son was to blame, and defended him as a skilled luger.
"He mustn't be blamed," the 46-year-old father, a Soviet-era luger, told The Associated Press. "He was thrown out, but why had they failed to build a protective barrier for such a case?"
Ketevan Dzheyranashvili, a 50-year old former luger, said she admired the athlete's dedication.
"He had excellent skills and was a real fanatic of the sport," she said.
Dzheyranashvili said that he had spent most of his time training abroad, but sometimes had trouble raising money from sponsors in the impoverished former Soviet nation.
The track in Bakuriani, a premier luge course in Soviet times, has fallen into disrepair and is now closed.