VANCOUVER - Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old Georgian luger, died after a horrifying crash in training Friday, casting a pall over the Winter Olympics hours before the Games were to be declared open.
Kumaritashvili was thrown off the sled as it bounced over the rim of the lightning fast track at the Whistler Sliding Center at around 90mph and slammed into a pillar.
He was taken away in an ambulance after receiving emergency treatment at the scene and the head of the Georgian Olympic delegation confirmed the death.
The crash at a Whistler track regarded as the fastest in the world destroyed a mood that had been one of celebration, as Vancouver prepared to welcome the world.
Residents lined the streets early on a mild day in the city center, cheering on torch-bearers before the opening ceremony, which was due to begin at 1800 local time (0200 GMT Saturday).
Small groups of anti-Games protestors swapped chants with pro-Olympic fans, many decked out in Canadian colors, but there was no serious trouble.
Speculation was rife about who would be given the honor of lighting the cauldron at the ceremony.
Fog and rain that forced the cancellation of the men's Alpine skiing downhill training session dampened the excitement a little before a shadow was cast over Vancouver's big day by a crash that made for unbearable viewing.
Training was immediately suspended.