By Duncan Mackay in Vancouver
February 12 - Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old men’s luger from Georgia crashed and died during a 90 miles per hour training run for the Olympics here today.
He lost control of his sled, went over the wall of the track and appeared to hit a steel pole near the finish line at the Whistler Sliding Center.
Rescue officials rushed to the scene and were performing chest compressions as well as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Kumaritashvili was lifted into an ambulance.
An air-rescue helicopter was summoned and was in the area over the track about eight minutes after the crash.
An official statement from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said: "Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili has had a serious crash in the final run of official training for the men's singles on Friday," said an official statement.
"The 21-year-old fell out of the track when he crashed.
"He was treated on-site by medical staff who administered CPR and was then taken away in an ambulance."
Kumaritashvili competed in five World Cup races this season, finishing 44th in the world standings.
This was his second crash on the circuit this week.
He crashed earlier in the week on the $105 million (£63 million) sliding centre, on Blackcomb Mountain's southeast side, which has 16 turns and drops steeply for 152 metres - the world's longest drop.
But on the previous occasion Kumaritashvili had walked away badly shaken but unhurt.
Jacques Rogge, the President of the IOC, admitted that the incident cast a long shadow over the Games, which he is due to officially open tonight.
He said: "Our first thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of the athlete.
'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."
A spokesman for the Georgian delegation said the country was considering pulling out of the Games in the wake of the tragedy.
Georgian Olympics delegation Chef de Mission Irakly Japaridze said: "We are all in deep shock, we don't know what to do.
"We don't know whether to take part in [today's] opening ceremony or even the Olympic Games themselves.
"I don't know how he died but I can tell you one thing, the track was really very bad."
Later a clearly emotional Rogge (pictured) and John Furlong, the chief executive of Vancouver 2010, held a press conference to officially confirm the death of Kumaritashvili.
Rogge said: "Sorry, it is difficult to remain composed.
"The IOC are in mourning."
Rogge confirmed that the family of Kumaritashvili had been informed of the tragic accident.
Furlong was clearly having problems holding back the tears.
He said: "It's not something I have prepared for.
"My team is devastated by this.
"This is a terrible accident.
"This is the very gravest thing that can happen in sport and our thoughts and those of the luge family are naturally with those touched by this event."
It is the third occasion that a competitor competing in the Winter Olympics has been killed.
The previous deaths had both occurred at the 1964 Games in Innsbruck when British luge slider Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypeski and Australian alpine skier Ross Milne were also killed in training accidents.
Kay-Skrzypeski, a Polish-born, died on the track in Igls, overshadowing the sport's debut in the Olympics, when his sled left circuit during training.
Milne, meanwhile, was killed when he hit a tree during practice.
Swiss speed skier Nicholas Bochatay was also killed during the 1992 Olympics in Albertville in practice for the demonstration event for which medals were not officially awarded.
Earlier in the day here, gold-medal favourite Armin Zoeggeler of Italy crashed, losing control of his sled on Curve 11.
Zoeggeler came off his sled and held it with his left arm to keep it from smashing atop his body.
He slid on his back down several curves before coming to a stop and walking away.
On Wednesday there were several crashes during women's training runs.
Romania's Violeta Stramaturaru crashed and was knocked unconscious for a few minutes and was taken to the hospital.
Earlier in the week, other competitors admitted the course at the Whistler Sliding Centre was one of the most challenging they had ever competed on.
US luger Tony Benshoof, who was fourth at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, said lugers were close to reaching as fast as they can safely handle.
He said: "We're really close.
"The tracks are getting faster and faster.
"It's getting pretty crazy.
"There's that word [dangerous], it's like that word 'fear'.
"It's getting down to that.
"I mean, a 100mph is pretty quick.
"I don't know how much faster we can go."
Britain's AJ Rosen, who finished 16th in the luge at Turin four years ago, led the tributes.
He said: "As with most sports, we are a family in luge, so a sudden and tragic loss such as this impacts everyone deeply.
"As athletes, we know that the international federation, the IOC and VANOC have no higher priority than ensuring our safety, on and off the field of play.
"I know they are looking into this and, should it be deemed necessary for them to introduce additional measures, they will do so.
"Right now, my thoughts and prayers are with Nodar’s family, friends and team-mates."
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