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Georgian luger killed in Olympic practice crash

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IOC committee: 'time of sorrow'
  • The Winter Olympics are hit by tragedy after the death of a competitor
  • Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia was killed suring a training crash for luge event
  • The 21-year-old smashed into a pole after coming off the track at high-speed

(CNN) -- The Winter Olympics has been hit by tragedy after the death of a Georgian competitor following a crash during training for the high-speed luge event -- the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Georgian Embassy have confirmed.

Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, was on the final corner of the course during official training when he had a "serious crash" and was propelled off the track at the Whistler Sliding Center in Vancouver, Canada, according to the IOC.

"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 a statement.

"We are deeply struck by this tragedy and join the IOC in extending our condolences to the family, friends and teammates of this athlete, who came to Vancouver to follow his Olympic dream", added John Furlong of VANOC, the Games Organizing Committee.

In the same statement, International Luge Federation President Josef Fendt said: "This is a terrible accident.

"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 this event."

Video: Olympic luger killed

The luge event is one of the most dangerous in sport, with competitors sliding down an icy track on a sledge, while steering with their legs, at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour.

Kumaritashvili was not considered one of the favorites to win a medal and was ranked 44th in the world.

However, earlier in practice, gold medal favorite Armin Zoggeler of Italy also lost control and crashed on curve 11, although he was able to walk away from the incident.

The accident came just hours before the Games officially started with a lavish opening ceremony on Friday evening.