SOCHI — These Winter Games, which begin today, will see competitors from a number of countries that don’t even have snow.
The sub-Saharan African country is sending one athlete to Sochi: Luke Steyn, who will compete in men’s slalom. This marks first time the country has cheered for a Zimbabwean during the Winter Games, although the 20-year-old was raised in Switzerland from the age of 2. Despite growing up in Europe and training in the US, the 20-year-old told the New York Times he still felt “very much connected” to his home country.
- British Virgin Islands
Peter Adam Crook was born on the Caribbean island Tortola but now spends much of his time in Park City, Utah, where he trains. He’ll compete in freestyle skiing at Sochi as the first winter Olympian from the islands since 1984.
Crook (20) told the Caribbean Journal that representing his country was an honour: “I’m doing something that not a lot of people in the BVI have seen before, so I hope to open everyone’s eyes to the sport that I love and make everyone proud.”
Alpine skier Antonio Jose Pardo Andretta actually lives in Venezuela, though he did much of his training in Whistler, B.C., and most often races in Europe.
“There is no snow in Venezuela, I (have) been in Whistler for the last 13 years in a row every winter,” the 43-year-old alpine skier told the Star in an email. His parents took him to ski in Switzerland at 17 and he fell in love with the sport.
“I’m super excited to represent my country,” he said. Pardo Andretta is the sole athlete Venezuela is sending to Sochi.
The luger now known as Bruno Banani (26) is the first-ever athlete from the Polynesian country to compete in any Olympic Games.
Banani legally changed his name from Fuahea Semi as part of a marketing ploy to sell racy German underwear by a company of the same name, causing a minor scandal in 2011 when the name change was revealed. It may have started as a lark, but he is apparently now a committed luger for Tonga. On his Facebook page he lists his interests as “Experiencing new things in life, doing sports, high speeds.”
The former violin prodigy Vanessa Mae released her first album in 1996 at age 16. She will put down the horsehair bow in exchange for ski poles, competing in slalom races under the name Vanessa Vanakorn, using her Thai father’s surname, this February.
Singapore-born, London-raised Mae has been playing violin since age 5, but has said skiing was her dream, too. “It has been my dream and I am hoping people will accept I just want to give it my best,” she told the Daily Telegraph in 2010, saying music was her lifelong passion and skiing her lifelong hobby.
Michael Christian Martinez, a 17-year-old born in Paranaque City, will be the first Filipino figure skater ever to compete in a Winter Games. There are only two skating rinks in the Philippines, and only one Olympic-sized one, at a shopping mall.
Martinez said in a 2013 interview with TV talk show Kababayan Today he asked his mother to try skating one day while at a shopping mall and was hooked after just an hour. He has been competing since 2008, but has struggled to maintain the funding to allow him to practice six hours a day — the norm for Olympic contenders. He also trains at a facility in California, and has said Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan is his hero.
A two-man bobsleigh team qualified for Sochi this year, and has taken to referring to itself as “Cool Runnings 2,” in reference to a 1993 movie mythologizing the 1998 team.
Marvin Dixon (30) and Winston Watts (46) even have a slogan: “Every underdog needs a sequel,” although the original team crashed during one of their runs at the Calgary Olympics and was disqualified.
As the first bobsleigh team to qualify for the Olympics since 2002, Watts came out of forced retirement due to lack of funds for the chance to compete at Sochi. He estimated the cost of competing at the Games was
$80 000 and the Jamaican government and Olympic organising committee would cover the costs.
Although the India Olympic Association has been officially banned from Sochi by the International Olympic Committee for not adhering to its constitution and for electing tainted officials, the country is sending three athletes to compete — just not under the national flag.
Still, luger Shiva Keshavan has said he’s competing for India in his heart. He’s been practicing his sport for 17 years, despite having no personal coach and building his luge in the garage. According to a video he posted to YouTube, he trains on wheels, dodging goat and automobile traffic alike on steep mountain roads because there is no luge track in India. Keshavan is from Himachal Pradesh, in the western Himalayas.
India has never won a medal at the Winter Olympics but two other athletes will also head to Sochi: cross-country skier Nadeem Iqbal and alpine skier Himanshu Thakur.