By Duncan Mackay in Whistler
British Sports Internet Writer of the Year

March 21 - John Furlong, the chief executive of Vancouver 2010, tonight left the Closing Ceremony of the Paralympics early so that he could fly to Georgia to attend a memorial service for Nodar Kumaritashvili, the luger killed on the opening day of the Olympics.

Furlong was invited to attend the memorial in Bakuriani by the father of Kumaritashvili, killed during a training accident at Whistler Sliding Center here on February 12.

The service on Tuesday is taking place 40 days after Kumaritashvili's death, in accordance with Christian Orthodox traditions.

Representing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will be Ireland's Pat Hickey, the President of the European Olympic Committees (EOC).

The International Luge Federation, which is still reviewing the incident, is also expected to send a representative.

Furlong left the Closing Ceremony via a helicopter to fly to Vancouver International Airport after making his farewell speech, which had been brought forward by officials to accommodate the trip.
He then met a connecting flight to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital where he is due to arrive at 5am on Tuesday before travelling to Bakuriani for the ceremony at 1pm.

Bakuriani is about 175 kilometres (108 miles) from Tbilisi.

Furlong said: "I am going to meet the family, and it is the right thing to do.

"I would want to go.

"I think this is obviously a major thing that happened here and it is important for us to be there to the end, to be seen to support the family.

"It is not something I would have been prepared to put aside."

Furlong will be accompanied by Renee Smith-Valade, the Vancouver 2010 vice-president of communications, who will also take with her a selection of the messages of condolences left by people at the makeshift memorial erected to Kumaritashvili close to the Whistler Medals Plaza.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

Picture by Helen Grace Bennett

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