At the Opening Ceremonies earlier today, viewers saw athletes from all over the world. The United States has 230 athletes participating (I believe that is the maximum number allowed by the IOC and general fairness); Russia has 226, and Canada 220. Nine other countries are sending over 100 athletes as well. No doubt these countries will be dominating the “Medal Count” tables – as if collecting the most medals means your country “wins” the Olympics.
The Olympics are not about which country gets the most “bling”. They are about athletes from all over the world getting together every four years to compete against each other. Sure, it takes a lot of time, money, and effort to get there. And there are minimum qualifications to be able to participate – they aren’t going to let just anyone come and play.
With extremely rare exceptions, you need the backing of a government to make it to the Olympics. Which is why they are dominated by the large and wealthy nations. But there are still small countries that manage to send athletes, and they are just as proud of them and cheer just as hard as any other country.
Here are the athletes who are the sole representatives of their countries:
Dow Travers, Cayman Islands (alpine skiing):
“It’s impossible to say exactly how I’ll do. I was 65th in the slalom at the world championships which is my weakest event. Hopefully, I’ll be better by then and we’ll see what happens.”
Elise Pellegrin, Malta (alpine skiing):
Started skiing at the age of three, and won her first competition at the age of eight.
Michael Christian Martinez, Philippines (figure skating):
“Many skaters and coaches, were actually surprised, very surprised, when I qualified in the Olympics, because I was not skating that long in the U.S. and I’m still very young. And what’s more surprising to others was the fact that I came from the Philippines, a country with no snow.”
Tucker Murphy, Bermuda (cross-country skiing):
Also the sole representative from Bermuda at Vancouver in 2010
Peter Crook, British Virgin Islands (freestyle skiing):
“My dad and I formed the BVI Ski Association three years ago. I’d say that the biggest challenge we faced was initially putting the concept before the BVI Olympic Committee. We had the task of explaining to them exactly what halfpipe skiing was.”
Kari Peters, Luxembourg (cross-country skiing):
“It makes more sense to try and do my best [than to predict where I will place] and when I know that after the race, I’m satisfied.”
Lui Pan-To Barton, Hong Kong (speed skating):
“I’ve had a picture in my mind of what it would be like to bear the Hong Kong flag and enter the venue for the opening ceremony at the Games. I think it’s a glorious duty, as well as a great responsibility. If I do get the duty, I will be very proud and thrilled.”
Bruno Banani, Tonga (luge):
Born Fuahea Semi, the Tongan rugby player and luger legally changed his name to Bruno Banani to court sponsorship from the company. “I also have a lot of messages from different people around the Pacific who are very happy with what I’m doing. I’m just trying now to be more focused in my training… because there’s also a bit of pressure on me knowing that there are so many people behind me.”
Dmitry Trelevski, Kyrgyzstan (cross country skiing):
He’ll repeat as flag bearer, having had the honor in Vancouver.
Hubertus von Hohenlohe, Mexico (alpine skiing):
A six time Olympian, he told NBC News that he’s hoping to clinch the title of “best dressed” at the sporting event. “[It’s] a medal I need so urgently,” he said.
Dachhiri Sherpa, Nepal (cross-country skiing):
“I think there is a very big chance I will finish last. But the placing is not important if I can teach young people in Nepal about the Olympic spirit. This spirit is in my heart.”
Muhammad Karim, Pakistan (alpine skiing):
“Joining the [Naltar Ski School, run by the Pakistani Air Force] gave me the opportunity to take up skiing professionally. My first training tour was in 2006 in Japan and I’ve never looked back since. I ended up competing in the 2007 Asian Winter Games where I finished fifth and then bagged a bronze medal in Lebanon during the 2009 Asian Winter Games.”
Luke Steyn, Zimbabwe (alpine skiing):
”Zimbabwe tends to breed a competitive spirit. But it’s not just about winning at all costs. It’s a healthy enthusiasm for all sport.” – Kevin Atkinson, the head of the Zimbabwe Snow Sports Association
Yohan Goutt Goncalves, Timor-Leste (alpine skiing):
“Timor is a pretty new country, and I hope I can make a difference. I don’t want to throw myself flowers, but it’s starting to build itself as a proud independent country. I want to show that it’s not only about war, our country. So it’s special for me.”
Alisher Qudratov, Tajikistan (alpine skiing)
Julia Marino, Paraguay (freestyle skiing):
“The Olympics are about representing where you are from, and Paraguay is where I’m from.”
Antonio Jose Pardo Andretta, Venezuela (alpine skiing)
Jasmine Campbell, Virgin Islands (alpine skiing):
“It’s just basically an 18 hour job where I’m always thinking about skiing. I wake up in the morning, before going upstairs, I watch a ski video. When I go to bed at night I watch a ski video. During the day, I have double training sessions.”
Some of the countries mentioned above are making their first appearance at the Winter Olympics. Two other countries are “first timers”, too, both with a pair of athletes:
Dominica – Angelica and Gary di Silvestri (cross-country skiing):
”We were on board to get the notoriety for the country and to establish a following for the youth in Dominica. There’s nothing, there’s no background or history. So we thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to get that established.” – Gary di Silvestri
The Silvestris are the first husband-wife team to ever compete in the same Winter Olympics event.
Togo – Alessia Afi Dipol (alpine skiing) and Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean (cross-country skiing):
“It wasn‘t my idea, the Togolese Ski federation contacted me through my Facebook account to join the team for Sochi and other events. As I was no longer in the French training groups I seized the opportunity. If I had been told that I would participate in the Olympics, I would have not believed it – and even less in the colours of Togo.” – Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean
You may look at some of these athletes, and think they are a joke with no chance to win anything. That may be true, but they still have to meet some standards of eligibility, just like those on every other national team. And it’s not as if the US team doesn’t have athletes who are going to come in last.
Some of these people have dual citizenships making them eligible to represent the smaller countries; some are college students who picked up the love of their sport while abroad. But they are all good athletes, so let’s give them all a cheer.