Almost 12 years ago to the day, Saba Kumaritashvili’s cousin died in a luge crash before the start of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.
Nodar Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled during a training run just hours before the 2010 Winter Games’ opening ceremony.
Saba says he thinks about Nodar all the time, adding that his cousin’s death provided extra motivation to participate in the Winter Olympics.
“I wasn’t afraid. I wanted to be in the Olympics to race,” said Saba. “Everyone in my family is in luge. After Nodar, I didn’t want luge to die in Georgia. I wanted to keep it going.”
Kumaritashvili completed his first two runs in men’s singles at the National Sliding Centre on Saturday, ahead of the final two runs to come on Sunday, though he’s not a medal contender.
The man who won gold in the men’s singles at the 2010 Vancouver Games, Felix Loch, paid tribute to Nodar at the time, melting his medal into two disks, then etched the Georgian’s portrait and the years of his birth and death on one before presenting it to the Kumaritashvili family.
Chasing what would be his third gold medal in the men’s singles event, Loch says he’s “happy” Saba has made it to Beijing.
“It’s emotional. I walked there in Georgia and I felt really welcome there,” Loch said. “I think it was the right thing to do, to go there. It takes a lot of courage for Saba to be here. He likes the sport, like his cousin. It’s great to see him sliding for the whole luge family.
“It’s a great sign for the sport. It shows you what sport can do.”
The Kumaritashvili family has been a driving force for the sport of luge since the 1970s. Saba’s great-grandfather Aleko helped build Georgia’s first luge track, also serving as the country’s coach and running the national luge federation.
“My parents didn’t object to me going into luge. I think they wanted it more than me,” Saba said with a smile.
“Nodar is one of the reasons I’m in luge. We have 10 years’ age difference, so I don’t remember much of him, only moments.”