Beyond the Jamaican Bobsledders
Warm weather countries at the Winter Olympics
by Gerry Brown
For fairly obvious reasons, nations with largely temperate climates have not fared well at the quadrennial snow and ice sports showcase that is the Winter Olympics. The teams that dominate year in and year out are the Scandinavian countries, Alpine nations, and large countries with plenty of mountainous regions like the United States and Russia.
Leader of the Pack
Perhaps the most famous instance of a warm weather nation at the Winter Games was the Jamaican Bobsled Team, which first competed in the 1988 Calgary Games and made several subsequent Olympic appearances. After failing to send a four-man team to Salt Lake City in 2002 due to lack of funding, the Jamaicans will be back again with a two-man and four-man team in Turin.
The Jamaicans are not the only Caribbean islanders to have a bobsled team. Puerto Rico sent teams to the 1992, 1994, and 1998 Olympics, but dropped out of the 2002 Salt Lake City games due to an eligibility issue.
Out of Africa
In 1992 at the Albertville Olympics, a Moroccan skier actually got lapped on the giant slalom course, falling several times before finishing the course and embarrassing Morocco with his ineptitude. This year in Torino, a Belgium-born Moroccan is hoping to erase those painful memories for her country by becoming the first African woman to ski in the Winter Olympics. Eighteen-year-old Sarah Ben Mansour was born outside Antwerp and "trains" in Flanders. The man-made indoor slope (coincidentally named the Casablanca Ski Centre) that she practices on is laughably small compared to the majestic training grounds of skiers from the traditional skiing powers and involves countless numbers of short runs. Ben Mansour has a Belgian father and Moroccan mother, speaks Arabic, and grew up immersed in Muslim culture. Her total African skiing experience is limited to just two days in Morocco's Atlas Mountains, where she gave demonstrations to locals. Ben Mansour is not looking to medal, just to represent her ancestral homeland with pride and dignity.
But the all-time prize for a warm weather athlete left out in the cold goes to Mexican cross-country skier Roberto Alvarez. At the Calgary Games in 1988 he competed in the 50km event although he had never even skied further than 20 kilometers before. He finished dead last in 61st place, almost an hour behind the 60th place finisher. He actually took so long that race organizers formed a search party to go look for him out on the course.
Look for these countries in Torino
A partial list of warm weather nations expected to compete at Torino include Algeria (which will also reportedly send a female downhiller), Bermuda, Costa Rica, Greece, Honduras, Kenya, Lebanon, Senegal, and Trinidad and Tobago. And 48-year-old Anne Abernathy, a.k.a. "Grandma Luge," will compete in her sixth Winter Games for United States Virgin Islands.
Can Greece break through?
Since making its Winter Games debut in 1936, Greece, the birthplace of the Summer Games, has never claimed a medal on snow or ice. It has earned more Summer Olympic medals (110) than any other nation on the list of Torino entries still searching for a Winter medal. Cuba, winner of 165 Summer medals, but zero Winter medals, will not compete at the 2006 Winter Games.
The accidental gold medallist
It has not been total futility for the warm-weather nations. Australia won two golds at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. One of them, in short-track speed skating, came to the Land Down Under a little by accident. During a dash to the finish line on the final lap of the men's 1000 meters, a wipe out by the race leaders took out the four leading skaters and enabled Steven Bradbury to glide home for the improbable gold.