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2010 Winter Olympics: Mourners pay respect to fallen luger

VANCOUVER — It was supposed to be a small, private goodbye to their friend and teammate.

But when about 50 people bearing flowers and holding candles showed up the Vancouver funeral home where the Georgian team and political delegation was saying goodbye to Nodar Kumaritashvili, they were invited inside to mourn with the 21-year-old's family and friends.

"Initially it started out to be, that the Georgian delegation wanted this to be a pretty closed and very private service," said John Furlong, CEO of VANOC Monday morning. "The public was permitted to come in and mourn with them."

Furlong was visibly saddened after the small service, which began with an open casket and ended with a moment of silent good-byes before his casket was carried to a waiting car.

"This is a devastated delegation," he said, folding his hands and looking down. "As you might imagine, the uncle of the young man (who coaches the team) is heartbroken. There are three athletes on this team from the same class in the same school in Georgia. We were just trying to find a good way to look after them."

VANOC has spent the last few days trying to expedite the investigation and process by which Kumaritashvili's body could be released to family and friends.

"There is a desire in this young man's hometown to get him home to Georgia as quickly as possible," said Furlong. "I'm very proud of all the Canadian officials in making the necessary arrangements to have Nodar's body repatriated to Georgia as fast as is possible. The flight with his remains will leave this afternoon."

The people who joined the Georgian delegation stood in silence while Nodar's teammates said goodbye. Then Furlong and others closed his casket, carried him to a waiting car, which was escorted by a police motorcade to await a flight that would eventually take the aspiring luge athlete home to his parents.

"It was just honestly an extremely difficult, extremely moving and heartbreaking morning," he said. "We tried, the best we could, to give them the appropriate environment to give them closure here."

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com