KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — On the eve of the Vancouver Olympics, two lifelong friends from the country of Georgia sat down and spent several hours catching up.
The next day, one of them died when luger Nodar Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled, flew off course and slammed into a steel pole.
Iason Abramashvili, the other man in the room that night, will never forget it.
On Wednesday, Abramashvili competed in the giant slalom at the Sochi Games with his good friend on his mind. Abramashvili didn't finish his first run after having trouble with a tricky course setting, but vowed to ski even better in the slalom event this weekend — for Kumaritashvili.
"It's for his memory, for sure," Abramashvili said in an interview with The Associated Press after his run. "A perfect guy, perfect athlete. He was really, really friendly. Nobody remembers something bad from him. He was a really, really good person. Everybody remembers him so good."
Abramashvili vividly remembers the last night they spent together in Vancouver. Since they participated in separate sports, their paths rarely crossed in the winter. So when they reunited at their Olympic accommodation, they hung out until around 11 p.m. Abramashvili said his luger friend even showed him a video of the course he was about to run.
"He was explaining to me and showing me the videos about this turn," the 25-year-old Abramashvili recalled. "He was talking about the speed. He talked with me, saying, 'It's really fast, really fast.'"
Kumaritashvili was 21 and preparing to compete in his first Olympics when he crashed. He died instantly, hours before the games were to open.
"We heard he crashed and after 10 minutes, a volunteer called us and told us this tragedy," said Abramashvili, who attended school with Kumaritashvili. "Nobody speaks. We were really shocked. Nobody knew what to do. It was really, really difficult for us."
"A big tragedy for Georgia. Not only for Georgia, but the Olympic Games, for all the world, for all the athletes," Abramashvili said. "It was a really, really big tragedy. I was really in shock. He was a very nice person for me, for Georgia."
Abramashvili wanted to honor his friend Wednesday with a strong performance in giant slalom, but said of his race: "I was late in a turn and there was a bump. It was not a lucky day for me."
He's hoping to do better in the slalom.
"If I make some good results," Abramashvili said, "it's really for him."