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Vancouver Georgian community seeks memorial bench for luger killed at 2010 Olympics

In this Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, file photo Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia practises during a men's singles luge training run at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, B.C. .
In this Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, file photo Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia practises during a men's singles luge training run at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, B.C. . AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File

Ten years after a young Georgian luger was killed during a training run at the 2010 Olympics, B.C.’s Georgian community is hoping to keep his legacy alive in Vancouver.

Nodar Kumaritashvili was practising on the luge track in Whistler on Feb. 12, 2010, ahead of that night’s opening ceremonies when he collided with an ice wall in the track’s corner. He was ejected from the track and hit a metal post, dying instantly at the age of 21.

Natives of Kumaritashvili’s home country who now call B.C. home held a celebration of life in Whistler on Wednesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the athlete’s death.

On Saturday, many of those same people gathered in Mount Pleasant to raise funds for a memorial bench the group hopes to set up in Stanley Park in Kumaritashvili’s honour.

READ MORE: Shock and mourning in Georgia over luge death

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“We want to keep his name in Vancouver,” said Besso Gotsadze, who was assigned as a liaison to Kumaritashvili during the Games as a volunteer for the Georgia team.

“I love this tradition in Canada because this is real unique. It would be something memorial and would keep him alive.”

Gotsadze says getting the opportunity to come to Canada as a part of the Olympics was exciting until it turned toward tragedy.

“It was one of the hardest days of my life,” he said. “We were looking toward the opening ceremony and coming in as the Georgia delegation, but one call changed everything.”

READ MORE: Whistler luge comparable to others on safety: study

That night’s opening ceremony was dedicated to Kumaritashvili, who Gotsadze remembers as a “great ambassador” for Georgia.

“He was one of many very promising, young athletes, very motivated,” he said. “He stays with us.”

Kumaritashvili had run the Whistler track 26 times and he came into the Olympics ranked 44 out of 65 in World Cup standings.

Gotsadze says he and the rest of the Georgian team were able to make it through the rest of the Games thanks to the outpouring of love and support from the rest of the world.

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READ MORE: Young athlete in stable condition after accident on Whistler’s luge track

It’s that support he hopes will help the community ensure Kumaritashvili’s name stays in Vancouver.

“We’re a small nation, but everyone showed us we’re not alone,” Gotsadze he said. “So many regular Canadians were just coming, hugging, staying with us and spending time with us.

“That’s why I’m still here and doing this. … We discovered how, no matter what language or accent, our hearts are all open and it made us unite with Canadians even more.”

The City of Vancouver says a donation of $6,000 funds a personalized plaque on a park bench for 10 years.

A Facebook fundraiser that is also seeking funds to support Kumaritashvili’s family back in Georgia has raised just shy of $2,000.

Former VANOC CEO John Furlong on Rick Hansen
Former VANOC CEO John Furlong on Rick Hansen