Sliders pay tribute to dead Georgian

By Alan Baldwin

WHISTLER (Reuters) - Olympic luge athletes, their helmets marked by black strips of tape, paid their respects to dead Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili on Saturday when they returned to the track a day after his fatal crash.

"It is still fresh in our hearts today, of course," said Indian Kannan Palan Keshavan, the last man to complete a run on Friday before the final corner tragedy.

"We are not able to compete with that same joy," he told reporters after returning to the track from the lower women's start as an additional safety precaution introduced by organizers.

"But we have to go on," he added. "The Olympic Games are here and we have to show to the rest of the world what athletes are made of.

"He was a competitive slider ... and we try to honor him and to compete, keeping him with us."

Kumaritashvili's team mate Levan Gureshidze decided not to take part in either of the day's training runs, with his continued involvement in the event uncertain.

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Keshavan, who races despite a back problem, said the sliders had met at the Olympic Village on Friday night to discuss how they should react.

"It was very hard yesterday," he told reporters. "After what happened, all of us had a meeting at the village and we thought of how we could remember him, how we could do honor to his memory and his ideals and what he fought for.

Tony Benshoof of the United States was the first man down the track since the fatal accident but he said it had not affected him.

"Obviously it's a tragedy, a terrible thing. As a competitor, I can't personally dwell on it until afterwards. And so we just do our best. Everyone's got their own way of coping with it."

Canadian Jeff Christie agreed with that.

"An incident like this is going to affect everyone in their own way. People process grief differently," he said. "Some guys, the first day are fine and in a month from now are just going to break down.

"There are some guys up there that you can see are processing it right away and other guys just giggling and you are thinking why? But it's because people process grief in completely different ways."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Jon Bramley)