John Furlong, Winter Olympics head, devastated by athlete's death

Devastated: John Furlong talks about the death of Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili

John Furlong the Irish-born head of the Vancouver Olympic Games host committee has expressed his shock and sadness when he found out about the death of Georgian luge participant Nodar Kumaritashvili who died after an horrific crash during a training run.

"I felt sick. I felt like someone had phoned me and told me my own son had been killed. It was awful." said the Tipperary-born Furlong who helped carry Kumaritashvili's coffin when it was escorted to the airport

"It was just so sad," Furlong said. "It was an open casket, which I guess is tradition in Georgia. It was very emotional obviously. I spoke to the boy's uncle, who was his coach. I just said: 'I don't have the adequate words to express how I feel, but if there is anything I can do, or members of our team can do, you have to let me know.'"

Furlong told The Globe and Mail newspaper that  the  death deeply affected his organization.

"There's no question it set us back on our heels," Furlong said. "It's been a tough, tough thing to bounce back from. But you have no choice. You have to forge ahead, while never forgetting that a wonderful young man with his entire future ahead of him lost his life."

"The community where Nodar was from [Bakuriani] is a small town of maybe 1,500 people," Furlong said. "It has a real winter sports tradition. He was one of three kids on the Georgian team who were from the same class in the school there. The whole town is just shattered.

"One thing they are hoping comes from this as a legacy is to build a luge track in the town. It's something they have been trying to do for a long time and now they hope that one will be built in Nodar's memory."

Furlong stated he was especially concerned about the impact on the other Georgian team members "I was really concerned about the psychological impact this was going to have on all these young men and the dreams they had come here to pursue," said Furlong.

"The luge community isn't very big. They move around the world together competing in one spot after another. So I knew this was going to impact more than one family because the luge community is a family in and of itself."

Furlong was in B.C. Place Stadium for a function on Sunday night when Alexandre Bilodeau won Canada's first Olympic gold medal on home soil. He admits to feeling veryemotional when it happened.

"I think it was needed on so many levels," he said. "Canadians needed it. The team needed it. The guys up there on Cypress really needed it because they've been feeling like they have been piling sand bags up against the side of a raging river that won't quit.

"But the justice last night was in the young man who won it. What a fantastic person he is. What a lift he helped give us just when we needed it most."

 
 

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