A nation that had hoped to watch one of its most promising young athletes compete in the Olympics gathered instead today to mourn luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. Thousands flocked to his family's home for a traditional funeral feast. Inside, the body lay in a coffin, surrounded by Orthodox Christian icons and burning candles. A small choir sang Georgian chants and a portrait of the athlete hung on the wall. His father, David Kumaritashvili, stared at the portrait somberly and said: "I wanted to throw a wedding feast for you. Instead, we have a funeral."
President Mikhail Saakashvili was expected to attend. Before the funeral, family and friends poured red wine in the grave as part of the burial rite in this Caucasus Mountains nation with millenia-old winemaking traditions. In his hometown, the athlete was a hero, especially to children. Neighbor Dmitry Laliyev, 4, had asked Kumaritashvili to bring him a toy rifle from Canada. Nodar's parents found the toy in his luggage after his death and gave it to Dmitry. "Nodar brought me this," the boy said, playing with it at the athlete's funeral.