A Georgian luge competitor has died after a crash on a training run, casting a shadow over the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.
Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, was making his final practice slide before Saturday's competition when he lost control at 90mph and slammed into an unpadded steel pillar.
The tragedy, on a track which had already sparked controversy for its speed, darkened the mood at the opening ceremony on Friday night during which Wayne Gretzky, the Canadian ice hockey champion, lit the permanent cauldron to mark the official opening of the Games.
The crowd cheered Georgia's national team, wearing black armbands, as they entered the arena for the parade of 3,000 athletes attending the Games.
Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, visibly struggled with his shock at the death of the young athlete competing at his first Olympics, saying: "I have no words to describe how we feel."
John Furlong, the head of the Games, fought back tears as he spoke of the death.
"We are heartbroken beyond words," Furlong said.
"This athlete came to Canada with hopes and dreams that this would be a magnificent occasion in his life.
"I am told by members of his delegation that he was an incredibly spirited person. He came here to experience what being an Olympian was."
The audience later held a moment of silence to honour Kumaritashvili.
Crash to be investigated
The crash at the Whistler track, regarded as the fastest in the world, came a day after a luge federation official told Reuters news agency that sliding tracks needed to be slowed down.
|Georgian competitors wore black armbands in memory of Kumaritashvili [AFP]
The International Olympic Committee suspended training on the track and launched an investigation.
The opening night began with film of a lone snowboarder on a snow-covered peak, descending through a huge flare-lit Canadian maple leaf before turning to a live leap through the Olympic rings inside the venue.
The native Indian, Inuit and Metis indigenous to Canada then took to the stage.
Outside the stadium anti-games protesters joined residents to raise a din.
"Shame, Canada, Shame" and "No Olympics on stolen native land" were among slogans chanted by several hundred protesters.
Despite a few scuffles with police, there was no serious trouble.
However, the weather continued to pose a threat to the games. Rain and fog threatened postponement of Saturday's men's downhill, the premier event in Olympic Alpine skiing.
Guenther Hujara, the race director, said on Friday it would be put off unless the course condition improved significantly.
The opening women's skiing event, the super-combined scheduled for Sunday, was postponed.
The delay may benefit US athlete, Lindsey Vonn, who worried that a bruised shin might stop her going for five gold medals.
She used Twitter and Facebook to reassure fans she was getting better all the time.