3 January 2014

Debut nations at the 2014 Winter Olympics

When the Winter Olympics roll into Sochi next month there will be some nations that for the first time will be wrapping up warm for the opening ceremony. So who are they and who is representing them:


The tiny Caribbean island nation with a population of under 72,000 is sending its first team to the Winter Olympics and they are keeping it in the family. Husband and wife duo Gary and Angelica di Silvestri are taking part in the cross country skiing. They have taking part in ski camps in Oregan in the USA since 2005. He played American Football and wrestled at High School in New York and will be 47 by the time he competes in his first Olympics. They were approached by the NOC in November when the IOC noticed a lack of nations from the Caribbean who had entered delegations for Sochi.


The tiny islands state in the Mediterranean rarely if ever sees snow, but it is sending a skiier to take part in the women's Alpine programme. Elise Pellegrin was born in France, although it was her great grandfather who was Maltese born who moved to France to seek work. See was born in May 1991 so will be only 22 when she realises her Olympic dream. She finished 80th in last year's World Championships.


The South American nation, which like Malta is not a snowy nation, are taking benefit from one of the new sports appearing in 2014 to make their Winter Olympic debut, slopestyle skiing. The women who parade one of only two flags in the world with two distinct sides is Julia Marino. She was born in Paraquay, but adopted at the age of six months by a family in the USA and lived in Winchester, Massachusetts. She trains alongside the American team and is a serious contender for a medal. If she were it would be her nations second and first by a woman to go alongside the men's football team's silver in


For the first time since they became independent Timor-Leste have a qualified athlete coming to any Olympics rather than as the result of a wild card. The man who successfully qualified in the last slalom race of 2013 in Serbia is 19-year-old Yohan Goutt Goncalves whose father is French but through his mother qualifies for Timor-Leste. It was growing up in France that he developed his love for the slopes. He started competing at the age of 14 and while told his parents that he wanted to take part in the Olympics. They thought he meant as part of the French team which would have been a hard ask, but he knew how important it was for his mother who fled her homeland when she was 12 as a refugee to establish her newly independent nation on the world stage. With no snow in Timor the newspapers refer to what he does as snow skating, but hopefully by the end of Sochi they will know a little more about just what it is he does as he takes part in the men's slalom.


One of the smallest African nations a thin slither between Ghana and Benin, Togo will have a competitor in the cross-country skiing. No jokes about finding a small nation to be able to ski across it please. Their competitor is Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean who lives in France. She was born on 19 February 1994 meaning that when she lines up in the 10km classical start on the 13th February she will 6 days shy of her 19th birthday. She is actually going quite well in the junior women's events this year and while not likely to feature in the medals this time around could be one to watch in 2018 in Pyeongchang.


The Pacific island Kingdom of Tonga is sending their first delegation to the Winter Olympics thanks to a top 38 finish in the 2013-14 Luge World Cup by Bruno Banani. Banani, whose was born Fuahea Semi in December 1987, was one of two athletes chosen by the Tongan Olympic Committee to try and qualify for the 2010 Games in luge. He did however qualify for the 2011 World Championships and picked up a sponsorship deal with German company Makai. It was they who introduced him as Bruno Banani (the name of a racy German underwear company) and he has been part of the World Championships ever since. He trains in Germany alongside some of the best lugers in the world where they are fascinated by the Tongan.Thomas Bach, the new IOC President said the name change was in bad taste but that if the name on his passport was Banani and he qualified there was would no option but to accept him by that name, in 2013 he legally changed his name and now Bruno Banani is heading to Sochi.


A second African state will be making their debut at this year's Winter Olympics and like the majority of the nations who are doing so it is in the skiing disciplines. Unlike some of the other nations making their debut there has been snow recorded in Zimbabwe, though that was last in the 60s. Harare born Luke Steyn was first introduced to snow at the age of two, and since the age of nine has been training from his father's European base for Alpine skiing. He has more recently gone to the University of Bolder Colorado in the USA where he joined their racing team, but is on a year out as first he set about qualifying and now competing the the Games.

Disclaimer: The author does not condone Russia's record on human rights particularly on LGBT rights, but does recognise the skills and abilities of all athletes who have qualified for the XXII Winter Olympics and will covering their acheivements.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Paraguay's first medal was won by their football team in 2004 not in rowing. Also you might want to add Eritrea and Timor-Leste to this list as they also have athletes in qualification position!