29 January 2014

Smaller Winter Olympic delegations: 2 Asia #Sochi2014

After looking at the debut Winter Olympic nations it is time to look at some of the smaller delegations, those with 5 or less athletics so I am looking at them continent by continent. Second up is Asia.

 Four athletes will represent Azerbaijan in two sports, but not one of them is born in Azerbaijan.

Russians Julia Zlobina and Alexei Sitnikov will be taking part in the Ice Dancing for their adopted nation they were 6th in this season's European Championships an improvement on 7th last season. They were also the silver medalists in last year's Winter Universiade. At 24 and 27 it is possible that they may continue for another Olympic cycle but having finished 16th in the world's last year they will be looking for any improvement on that position and a top 10 finish would be exceptional.

Patrick Brachner originally from Austria will take part in the men's giant slalom and slalom. He injured his left knee earlier on in the season but was back on the slopes ahead of the initial schedule determined to be in Sochi.

Gaia Bassani Antivari was born in Italy and first tried to compete in the 2002 Winter Olympics for Grenada, but they failed to compete the necessary paperwork. She did however take part under the Azerbaijan flag in 2010 finishing 57th in the Giant Slalom but skied out of the course in the first run of the slalom. She is only selected for the women's slalom this time.

Hong Kong

Only one sport has ever had Hong Kong representation in the Winter Games since they first appeared in 2002, and only three athletes before have ever competed in Short Track Speed Skating. So the fourth competitor but in that sport is Pan-To Barton Lui who will be the first man to represent Hong Kong in the Winter Games.

He qualified in November last year at the World Cup series events in Turin, Italy and Kolomna, Russia. He has traveled to be able to train, while still at school moving to Vancouver and now basing himself in Korea to train alongside the best Asian short track stars.


Himanshu Thakur
There will not be the Indian flag at the Opening ceremony of the 2014 Games due to the suspension of the nations National Olympic Committee in December 2012. Elections to replace the NOC committee take place 2 days after the opening ceremony so the Indian athletes will take part under the Olympic flag as Independent Olympic Athletes.

There will be three athletes across three disciplines.

Twenty-year-old Himanshu Thakur was up for the one Alpine slot against 2006 men's giant slalom competitor Hira Lal but the 34-year-old took his own name out of contention so that his younger first cousin who had the better performances over the qualifying period finishing ahead of his cousin on 8 of the 12 occasions that they both finished an event over the last 20 in the qualifying period. To qualify an athlete the men had to have a score of under 140 points on the FIS system, Thakur was on 111.20, Lal slightly worse on 111.43.So Thakur will compete in the men's slalom.

In cross-country skiing will see Nadeem Iqbal who serves with the High Altitude Warfare School of the Indian Army at Gulmarg take part in the men's 15km classical. He took part in the Nordic World Championships in 2013 and sealed his qualification after a race in France in December.

The final Indian participant is a veteran at the age of 32 he will be taking part in his fifth Winter Olympics. Shiva Keshavan first took part in the luge in 1998 at Nagano when he was the youngest ever luge competitor. His mother is Italian and he was approached to represent Italy in 2002 but insisted on retaining his Indian nationality for competition. Ironically then his best performance in the Olympics came in 2006 in Turino when he finished 25th.


Iran secured a quota of five athletes for the 2014 Games three spots in Alpine and two in Nordic skiing.

Kiadarbandsari in action
Hossein Saveh-Shemshaki will be taking part in his second Olympics coming 41st in the men's slalom and 70th in the Giant Slalom in Vancouver, where he was part of a team that included his brother Pouria. He will take part in the same two events in Sochi.

He is joined this time by 24-year-old Mohammad Kiadarbandsari who took a bronze medal at the 2011 Winter Asian Games in the Super-G. This is the first medal won by Iran at that level.

There is a spot available in the women's slalom and although at the time of writing it has yet to be awarded. Although it is likely to go to Marjan Kalhor who was the flag bearer and first woman to compete at the Winter Games for Iran in 2010.

There are two skiers going in the Nordic events, first there is Sattar Seid who also took part in 2010 where he came 89th in the men's 15km freestyle cross-country. The following year he was a key part in the Iranian relay team in the Winter Asian Games that brought home a silver medal. He will be lining up in the men's 15km classical in Sochi.

For the women there is Farzaneh Rezasoltani who will be taking part in the 10km classical. She has dominated the domestic racing schedule this season with a week at Val de Fiemme her only international competition last February with her best result being 36th in the 5km.

Will take part in three sports with a total of 5 athletes, three born in Ukraine, one in the USA and the other in Luxembourg.

Their best performers are likely to come in the figure skating the pairs will see Andrea Davidovich and Evegeni Krasnopolski. American born Davidovich only teamed up with Krasnopolski, born in Kiev, Ukraine, last year after his partner Danielle Montalbano had an injury that ruined their 2012-13 season. It is the first time Israel will be represented in the pairs having previously only had competitors in Ice Dance and men's singles. So far this year they have managed a 7th place finish in the European Championships which is 4 places higher than Krasnopolski and Davidovich managed in 2012. They are tipped for a top 16 finish in Sochi.

Another Ukrainian born competitor is Alexei Bychenko also from Kiev who had competed for Ukraine until 2010 in the men's individual figure skating. He was only third in the Ukraine national championships in 2010 having been a silver medalist on two previous occasions, but there was only one spot open to the Ukraine that year. He came 10th in this year's European championship his best ever finish.

Vladislav Bykanov is the third Ukrainian born competitor on this team, although his family moved to Israel when he was five. He is the first Israeli male to qualify in short track speed skating and came 12th overall in the European Championships this season. He will be competing in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m. He is hoping to do better than Olga Danilov who failed to advance in two of the same three disciplines in the women's events in 2002.

The final member of the Israeli team is a 19-year-old born in Luzembourg, Virgile Vandeput. Although Israel have a quota of two spots for the Alpine Skiing events they have chosen to only fill one of them an that is for the men's slalom and giant slalom. But the 19-year-old who trains in France is a veteran on the circuit having first appeared in the 2010-11 season as a mere 16-year old. In the world championships last season he managed 48th in the slalom.


Once again Kyrgyzstan will send Dmitry Trelevski to the Winter Games, but this time he is the sole qualifier from the Central Asian republic. He came 76th in the men's giant slalom but had failed to complete the first run of the slalom. At 28 he is taking part in his second Games and adding the Super-G to his itinerary. He is not a regular on the World Cup circuit and his best performance in the World Championships was in 2007 when he finished 45th in the slalom and 55th in the Giant Slalom.

He proudly carried his nations flag into the Opening ceremony in Vancouver four years ago and as the only representative this time will be doing so once again in Sochi.


There will be two competitors for Lebanon in Sochi a single competitor in both the men's and women's slalom.

Jacky Chamoun at 22 is returning for her second Winter Games. She placed 54th in the women's slalom four years ago.

She will be joined by Tarek Fenianos who is 13 months older than the veteran Olympian. He finished 46th in the slalom at last year's World Championships.


Chinbat Otgontsetseg
With the exception of 1976 when they sent no team and 1994 when there was only a short track speed skater Mongolia has been represented in the Cross-Country skiing every Olympics since 1964. This year they are no different.

In the shortest women's classical race the 10km they will be represented by 22-year old Chinbat Otgontsetseg. She was 91st in last season's World Championships at 10km Freestyle. Although she hasn't competed on the World Cup stage since she made two appearances in the 2009-10 season.

In the men's 15km classical she is joined by Bold Byambadorj. The 22-year-old has been based in Europe this season after coming 138th in the 15km Freestyle World Championships last year, to gain more international experience.

Both of them took part in the Universiade in Trentino in November last year as part of a four strong. Otgontsetseg had a best of 52nd in her Olympic discipline, Byambadorj came 61st in the 30km classical.


Nepal are only competing in their fourth Winter Olympics and for two of the previous Games their representative this year, Dachhiri Sherpa, was also their sole representative. Now aged 44 the man who holds the Ultra Marathon record for the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc is taking part in his third Winter Games. He was 92nd in 2010 better than, his 94th from 2006 in the men's 15km classical cross country.

At his age he is bound to be one of, if not the oldest competitor at this year's Winter Olympics. But as well as being a recognied trail runner around Europe in 2003 he decided he wanted to show off his country and to do that he took up cross country skiing. He is still superbly fit and do not rule him out of appearing in the next Games at an incredible 48.

Karim with Air Marshal Khan head of the Ski federation

Having sorted out the dispute between the Pakistan Olympic Committee and the Pakistan Government Mohammad Karim and teenage skier will be able to take his place in the men's slalom and giant slalom. He is only 18 and already leaps and bounds ahead of Pakistan's only previous Winter Olympian Mohammad Abbas. He is one of the growing number of young people from the Naltar region who the Pakistan Air Force are taking from the wooden skis that they start on to progress through international competition to enhance the nation's ski programme.


The sole representative for the Philippines wasn't even born when they last took part in their last Winter Games, the last time they were held in the same year as the Summer Games at Albertville in 1992. Indeed it would be almost five years before Michael Christian Martinez came into the world. At 17 it is only last year that he landed his first triple Axel. But last year he was 5th in the World Juniors, two of those above him were in the top four of this year's USA Championships and another won the Chinese Men's but has not been selected this time. The year before he was 7th in the Youth Olympic Games.

He is the first figure skater to ever represent his nation, as the only previous competitors have been in Alpine skiing or luge.

Chinese Taipei
There are two 21-year-old athletes from different backgrounds representing Chinese Taipei in both the speed skating disciplines.

The elder but just over 3 weeks is native born Sung Ching-yang who started out as an inline skater in which he won 2 gold medals in the 2010 Asian games in the 300m time trial and 500m sprint. He converted to long track speed skating and had success in last year's Universiade taking bronze in the 1000m. He will be competing in the two sprint disciplines 500m and 1000m at the Adler Arena Skating Centre. He is the first competitor from his nation to take part in the long track speed skating

The other is Canadian born Mackenzie Blackburn whose mother hails from the island. He grew up in Quebec surrounded by ice and snow in winter and coached by his parents in the short track version of speed skating. Like Sung Ching-yang he is a speed merchant and will only be taking part in the sprint events over 500m and 1000m. When he was only 16 he managed to come 14th in the 500m at the World Junior Championships. In an event where sometimes chance can have and impact he is capable of semi-final and quarter final results so anything could happen.


For the fourth Winter Games in a row Tajikstan are sending one man to the Games and that man is Andrei Drygin. He is the only person to have represented his adopted nation in the Winter Olympics, he was born in Russia. His best performance was when he came 44th in the Super-G in Vancouver 4 years ago., but he also has a best of 51st the Downhill in 2006 and 57th in Giant Slalom in 2010. He will be 36 this year when he arrives in Sochi to take part in the Super-G and Giant Slalom.


Vanessa-Mae Vanakorn
With two competitors it will no doubt be Kanes Sucharitakul who is taking part in the men's giant slalom and slalom who will be overlooked. The French based 21 year old student will pale in comparison to the media interest of the woman competing in the giant slalom. Although she is competing as Vanessa Vanakorn she is best known as Vanessa Mae the violinist. She will be making her Olympic debut at 35 after securing the Olympic qualifying standards on the last eligible day 19 January. They will follow in the ski tracks of Prawat Nagvajara who competed at Salt Lake City in 2002 and Turin in 2006.


There will be three athletes representing Uzbekistan in Sochi.

The first the eldest at 26 is also the only woman Kseniya Grigoreva who is appearing in her second Games. She unfortunately did not finish the first run of the women's slalom four years ago but came 58th in the Giant Slalom. This year she is doubling up adding Giant Slalom to her itinerary. She did not finish in either event in last year's world championships but two years earlier she was 44th in the slalom and 72nd in the Giant Slalom. 

Joining her in the Alpine disciplines in 20-year-old Artem Voronov who in last year's world championships came 44th in the men's slalom. In the world juniors the year before that he came 16th in the combined which suggests that in the future he may do more than simply the slalom and giant slalom which is all he has qualified for this time around.

The final member of the Uzbek team is yet another Russian born skater, Misha Ge. He is 22 years old but for most of his life has been training away from his homeland. At the age of ten he moved to China to start training and since 2009 has been training in the USA.

This explains why he was 6th in the Chinese national championship in 2009 before winning the Uzbek national title the following two years. However, in the 2011 Asian Games he finished 6th the last continental wide event he took part in. But in the last three Four Continents Tournaments (bring together the non-European skaters) he has been in the top 12 on each occasion. In last year's World Championships he recorded his best ever finish of 16th. But earlier this season he recorded his second silver medal performance in the Asian Cup only being beaten by Japan's Tatsuki Machida who secured Japan's second slot for the Olympics and Worlds this season.

 Timor-Leste appears in my blog post about debut nations.

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