Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old Georgian luger, died after a horrifying crash in training on Friday, casting a pall over the Winter Olympics hours before the Games were to be declared open.

Kumaritashvili was thrown off the sled as it bounced over the rim of the lightning fast track at the Whistler Sliding Centre at around 90mph and slammed into a pillar.

He was taken away in an ambulance after receiving emergency treatment at the scene and the head of the Georgian Olympic delegation confirmed the death.

The crash at a Whistler track regarded as the fastest in the world destroyed a mood that had been one of celebration, as Vancouver prepared to welcome the world.

Residents lined the streets early on a mild day in the city centre, cheering on torch-bearers before the opening ceremony.

Small groups of anti-Games protestors swapped chants with pro-Olympic fans, many decked out in Canadian colours, but there was no serious trouble.

Speculation was rife about who would be given the honour of lighting the cauldron at the ceremony.

Fog and rain that forced the cancellation of the men's Alpine skiing downhill training session dampened the excitement a little before a shadow was cast over Vancouver's big day by a crash that made for unbearable viewing.

Training was immediately suspended.

The BC Place arena in Vancouver, venue for the first Winter Olympics opening ceremony to be held indoors, will be packed and hundreds of millions of viewers will tune in to see the cauldron brought to life by the final, as yet unidentified, torch-bearer.

Many people in Vancouver expect Wayne Gretzky to be the man to take that honour after the former ice hockey great was spotted in the city this week.

The ceremony will mark the official opening of Games that will run until Feb 28 in the prosperous city on Canada's Pacific Coast.