VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Winter Olympics have been officially declared open in a ceremony dedicated to a Georgian luge athlete who was killed in a training run.
Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, was killed on February 12 when he was thrown off the track in a high-speed crash just hours before the opening ceremony.
During the opening ceremony that night, the crowd rose to its feet and applauded as the remaining members of the Georgian team walked into the stadium wearing black armbands and with black added to the Georgian flag in mourning for their deceased teammate.
Reports say many athletes from other nations also wore black armbands in recognition of the Georgian's death.
Georgia's Sport Minister Nikolos Rurua said the Georgian team will stay and compete despite the tragedy.
"Georgia was invaded by Russia [in 2008], and our team, despite this fact, persevered and stayed and competed and won several medals in Beijing," Rurua said. "So our sportsmen and our athletes decided to be loyal to the spirit of the Olympic Games and they will compete [in Vancouver] and dedicate their performance to their fallen comrade."
Another top Georgian sports official, Georgi Galdava, deputy chairman of Georgia's Sports and Youth Department, praised Kumaritashvili as one of the country's best athletes.
"He was among the top 50 athletes [in luge], and this is a quite high position," Galdava said. "I would like to emphasize that the cause of his death is still unclear, but the delegations which are there now are refusing to compete on this track. The track was not well-prepared. The cause of the accident should be determined during the investigation. Tonight, we expect to learn exactly which factors caused this fatal accident."
Olympic organizers say they will make changes to the luge track in the wake of Kumaritashvili's death.
The international luge federation (FIL) said in a statement that the changes are being made as a "preventative measure" to assure what it called "an extremely exceptional accident" would not occur again. Some athletes have said the track is dangerously fast.
When the luge track opened, one of the earliest runs produced a speed of 153.937 kilometers per hour, about 10 kph faster than any slider had ever recorded.
Gretzky Lights Torch
In the climax of the opening ceremony, a series of famous Canadian athletes took part in lighting an indoor cauldron before Canadian ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky took the torch outside to ignite the external Olympic flame by the Vancouver waterfront.
The 2.5-hour opening celebration before 55,000 spectators at the British Columbia Place Stadium marked the first time in the 86-year history of the Winter Olympics that an opening ceremony was held indoors.
Over the next 17 days, some 2,500 athletes from 82 countries are scheduled to compete in 15 winter sports for more than 80 separate medal events.
compiled from agency reports