VANCOUVER (Reuters) -- A huge black cloud has descended over the Vancouver Olympics following the death of 21-year-old Georgian luge competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili in a horrific training crash at the Whistler Sliding Center.
Kumaritashvili was making his final practice slide on February 12 when he lost control at 90 miles per hour on the exit of the 16th corner and was launched over the rim of the track before crumpling into an unpadded pillar.
His sled and smashed visor continued down the ice towards the finish line which was just meters away.
Medics performed emergency resuscitation at the scene before he was flown down the mountain by helicopter where he died in hospital. Ashen-faced course officials walked around in stunned silence as they waited for news.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Luge Federation (FIL) issued a joint statement confirming Kumaritashvili's death, the first during the Olympics since Swiss skier Nicholas Bochatay crashed into a snow-grooming machine at the Albertville Games in 1992.
"Our first thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of the athlete. The whole Olympic Family is struck by this tragedy which clearly casts a shadow over these Games," IOC president Jacques Rogge said in the statement.
"This is a terrible accident," added FIL president Josef Fendt. "This is the gravest thing that can happen in sport, and our thoughts and those of the luge family are naturally with those touched by the event."
Vancouver organising committee (VANOC) head John Furlong said he was stunned by the fatality on what should have been a joyous day for his staff.
"Nodar came to Canada with hopes and dreams that it would be a great moment in his life," he told a news conference. "He came to feel what it is like to be an Olympian. We are all heartbroken."
The cause of Kumaritashvili's death would be investigated by the Coroners Service of British Columbia, according to VANOC, while the IOC and the FIL would also carry out their own investigation into the accident.
The Georgian National Olympic Committee and its athletes wore black stripes as they marched in.
They also placed a black patch on the Georgian flag that would be raised immediately following the parade of athletes.
Kumaritashvili, the son of Selix, the head of the Georgian Luge Federation, was competing at his first Olympics after racing in five World Cup events this year with little success.