Chad Conley is a former elite competitive figure skater for Canada. He is in Vancouver and wrote this for Outsports.
By Chad Conley
Imagine being 21.
Imagine following in the footsteps of your father and uncle.
Imagine barely qualifying an Olympic spot for your country in a sport dominated by men 10 years older, with 15 years more experience?
Imagine being mere seconds from ending your final training run in the luge event, only to lose your life being so full of pride for your nation and doing what you loved.
These thoughts have gone through my mind and many others I have met here in Vancouver.
Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, from Georgia was an unknown face going into the 2010 Games. He was ranked 44th in the world, and was just thrilled to be able to compete. He died in a crash Friday during a training run on the luge course. In many ways, he has become the face of the Games.
Saturday, there was one withdrawal in the luge event. A Georgian athlete who grew up with Nordar could not bring himself to compete on the very track where his longtime friend had just lost his life.
Sunday, instead of hanging out with friends, I had the opportunity to go to a makeshift memorial site for Kumaritashvili, and place some flowers. Nodar never knew each other and we probably would never have met. But I had watched him die during his training run, doing something that I would've loved to have done -- fly down a course on a sled at more than 90 mph.
The tragic irony is that had he not died, no one outside of Georgia would have ever heard of Nodar Kumaritashvili. He would simply have competed as an athlete, and returned to Georgia with the sheer satisfaction of having been at an Olympic Games. He would've returned to his proud family, not to be congratulated for his medal, but his participation, and the simple fact he made it.
This is a lesson for us all. Of the total number of athletes competing at the Olympics, we we will only see about 10% to 15% of them.
Kumaritashvili will now forever be in the hearts of every athlete and person who feels some sense of sadness over what has happened. His family can find solace in the fact that their son died what he loved to do, at a place he was proud to be. Nobody should ever die while participating in sport. But this is a gentle reminder that not all sport is completely safe. People seem to forget that we spend countless of hours practicing, and the only way to learn and to succeed is to get hurt.
Nodar went down that track without fear. Whether the course or human error is to blame, he had probably fallen off his sled hundreds of time before.
Nodar Kumaritashvili will never be forgotten. He truly sacrificed to be the best he could be.
RIP Luge King, you are loved by many!