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Looking past the Eagle: 10 Winter Olympians whose remarkable stories you would never believe

30 years ago, the Jamaican bobsleigh team competed at the Calgary Olympics. Their story inspired the cult film, Cool Runnings. They were joined by Eddie the Eagle who still holds the British ski-jumping record.

Before Calgary, just five tropical nations had sent teams to the Winer Games. Since then, 33 unlikely countries have joined them.

With the Pyeongchang Games around the corner, we look at ten improbable Winter Olympians whose names you will never have heard.

 

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  1. Dow Travers (Cayman Islands)

Travers became the Cayman Islands’ first Winter Olympian in 2010, finishing 69th in the giant slalom event.

However, his talents go well beyond the snow. He represents the Caribbean island’s rugby union team and sevens team.

 

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  1. Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong (Ghana)

A story as remarkable for what didn’t happen as what did. Having never seen snow until he was 30, Nkrumah-Acheampong missed the 2006 Turin Games because his flight to the qualifiers was cancelled.

Four years later, the slalom-skier achieved his dream, becoming the first Ghanaian to reach the Winter Olympics.

 

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  1. Iginia Boccalandro (Venezuela)

The ex-volleyball player made the unusual career move from court to luge due to knee trouble.

However, a serious crash on her first run at the 2002 Games brought the presence of tropical nation athletes into question, with suggestions that a lack of ability was overshadowing their diversity.

 

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  1. Isaac Menyoli (Kenya)

Menyoli was the first Kenyan to compete at the Games when he made it to Salt Lake City in 2002.

Despite coming last in the 10km cross-country race, he announced that he had fulfilled his aim – by using his international platform to make the people of his hometown, Buea, aware of AIDS.

 

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  1. Erroll Fraser (British Virgin Islands)

Fraser’s appearance at the 1984 Sarajevo Games created history. He was the only black Olympic speed skater of the twentieth century.

He finished 40th, all this four years before Calgary had made the tropical nations ‘cool’.

 

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  1. Werner Hoeger (Venezuela)

Hoeger, a professor and writer of 62 academic books, took up the luge shortly before turning 45.

He was the Games’ oldest competitor in 2006, while he and his son Christopher are the only father-son duo to compete at the same Winter Olympics.

 

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  1. Philip Boit (Kenya)

The first Kenyan to reach the Winter Games, he had never encountered snow until taking part in a Nike-sponsored project in Finland. In 1998, he took Kenya’s single place at the Nagano Games.

He finished 92nd in the 10km race, so far behind the winner, Bjørn Dæhlie, that the medal ceremony had to be delayed until Boit had crossed the finishing line.

 

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  1. Anne Abernathy (US Virgin Islands)

Abernathy has had quite a life. She beat non-Hodgkins lymphoma in the lead-up to the 1988 Calgary Games, before suffering severe brain injuries in a crash during a 2001 World Cup event.

Astonishingly, she recovered in time to compete at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. Aged 64, she is now a professional archer.

 

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  1. Bruno Banani (Tonga)

Banani was born Fuahea Semi, before changing his name as part of an endorsement deal with German underwear company, Bruno Banani.

A computer science student at the time, he became Tonga’s first Winter Olympian when he qualified for the luge event in Sochi. He finished 32nd out of 39.

 

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  1. Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (Mexico)

Born in Mexico City to a family who reigned over the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany until the 19th century, the six-time Olympic alpine skier founded the Mexican Ski Federation in 1981, before co-producing Shirley Bassey’s 1987 single “The Rhythm Divine”.

The Prince has never medalled at the Olympics, although became the second oldest Winter Olympian ever with his appearance at Sochi, aged 55.

Nick Friend
Seeing off 500 entries along the way, Nick was the runner-up in the David Welch Student Sportswriter Competition for 2018, culminating in a night a the SJA Awards dinner alongside the very best in the industry. He has spent most of his twenty-three years involved in sport in one way or another. He graduated from Durham University with a degree in Modern Languages, having spent six months working as a coach for Cricket Argentina as part of his year abroad. The 23-year-old gained much of his experience in journalism as sport editor of the University’s student newspaper, Palatinate. During his two years in the role, he sourced and ran a host of high-profile exclusive interviews, three of which rank among the most-read pieces in the website’s history. He won the university’s Hunter Davies Prize for Journalism in 2015. Since leaving Durham, he has written for the iPaper, while contributing weekly to Sport500 – a website focused on creating concise sport opinion content. When not writing, Nick can often be heard bemoaning the fortunes of Queens Park Rangers. Beyond the Rs, he is an ICC and ECB-qualified cricket coach and umpire, while in more delusional times, had set his sights on a career in professional cricket. He counts darts, ski jumping and snooker among his passions, with an unnecessary knowledge of all three.
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