The Winter Olympics are traditionally dominated by athletes from countries where winter brings freezing temperatures and snow, but that hasn’t stopped a number of athletes from more tropical climates from infiltrating the ranks of the (c)old guard. From the Jamaican bobsled team to an Indian luger, here are 10 stories of warm-weather Winter Olympians, including a few who will compete in Vancouver next month.
1. The Jamaican Bobsled Team (pic above)Perhaps the most famous of all warm-weather Winter Olympians, the Jamaican bobsled team that inspired the 1993 film Cool Runnings made its debut in Calgary in 1988. Republican politician George Fitch, a former U.S. government attaché in Kingston who is currently serving as the mayor of Warrenton, Va., founded the original team…
Scott Allen over at Mental Floss posted a very timely piece about the warm climate countries that participate in Winter Olypics.
Three team members were in the military and had unsuccessfully tried out for the Jamaican national track and field team. “Jamaica has great athletes, and bobsled is the winter sport that best coincides with the athletic skills you find there,” Fitch said in 1988. “I only wanted to do this if we could be competitive and respectable. This is not a joke.” To offset the cost of its training and travel, the team sold copies of its official reggae song, “Hobbin’ and A-Bobbin’,” as well as T-shirts and sweatshirts. Jamaica’s four-man team crashed and finished last in Calgary and didn’t fare much better in 1992. The team showed dramatic improvement in 1994, finishing 14th, ahead of the United States.
Remember the name Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong. You’re bound to hear it again during NBC’s telecast of the Vancouver Games. The skier, nicknamed the Snow Leopard, is the first Ghanaian to qualify for the Winter Olympics. Born in Scotland while his father was teaching geography at Glasgow University, Nkrumah-Acheampong grew up in West Africa, where his only exposure to snow was on television. He moved to the UK in 2000 and learned to ski on an artificial slope after taking a job as a receptionist at an indoor skiing center in England. The Snow Leopard set his sights on the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, but crashed in his final qualifying race and narrowly missed the cut. He dedicated himself to improving his skills in the years that followed and that perseverance paid off when he officially qualified for Vancouver last March. Nkrumah-Acheampong has no delusions of competing for a medal. “I am a very realistic person and I know there is virtually no chance of that,” he recently told the Vancouver Sun. “I rather want to show people that you can do something when you come from a zero skier to qualifying for the Olympics in six years.”
Anne Abernathy graduated from American University in 1975 with a degree in theater arts and performed as a singer at nightclubs for several years before discovering luge on a trip to Lake Placid in 1983. Twenty-three years and six trips to the Winter Olympics later, she retired as the oldest female athlete to compete in the Winter Games. Abernathy, who lived in Florida but had dual-citizenship in the Virgin Islands, overcame lymphatic carcinoma to finish 16th at her first Winter Olympics in 1988. At 34, Abernathy was older than most of her competition in Calgary, and was given the nickname “Grandma Luge” during the early 1990s. During a 2001 World Cup race in Germany, Abernathy suffered brain damage in a crash that split her helmet open and left her unconscious for 20 minutes. Thanks to innovative brain biofeedback therapy, Abernathy recovered in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Abernathy was prepared to make her sixth Winter Olympics appearance in Turin, but broke her wrist during a training run. While she was unable to start her event, she filed an application with the Court of Arbitration for Sport to be reinstated on the Olympic starters list. The committee agreed to include Abernathy’s name on the starters list, making her women’s record for Winter Olympic appearances official.
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