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Madagascar Sends Skier to Turin Olympics


They are known as the Raz brothers. And it's easy to understand why. That's short for Philippe and Mathieu's last name, which is Razanakolona.

Twenty four-year-old Philippe is the vice president of the ski federation of Madagascar and his younger brother Mathieu, who is 19, is the competitor here. He's an alpine skier and the first to represent Madagascar at a Winter Games. Their father is Malagasy and their mother is Canadian. The brothers were born and raised in Canada but have a passion for Madagascar. They are dual citizens.

While the brothers have heard comparisons to the Jamaican bobsled team which competed at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, Mathieu says that's unfair because he has been skiing for 15 years in Canada and has won more than 100 medals in Quebec regional competitions.

"We're in the Olympics, but we're not in the Olympics just to be here," said Mathieu Razanokolona. "Our goal is beyond that. We're using the fact that we're Malagasy and that we're at the Winter Olympics to promote our country."

Mathieu added that he has dreamed of competing in the Olympics since he was a young boy. He said it was his brother Philippe who came up with the idea that if they could make it to the Olympics, they could do something positive for Madagascar.

They first visited the island off the east coast of Africa when Phillipe was 14 and he said it made a huge impact.

"The poverty in Madagascar was a complete shock," said Philippe Razanakolona. "And us living in Canada, I mean we have access to this whole social infrastructure that is health care, education, access to clean water, things that we take for granted, but that Malagasies don't necessarily have access to."

The Razanakolona brothers are aiming to fund a development program for Madacascar that will help in these areas. Madagascar is one of the world's poorest countries, with about 70 percent of its population living below the poverty line.

The brothers say their parents completely funded their trip to the Olympics, so whatever funds they raise go directly to development projects in Madagascar.

"We don't necessarily want to promote skiing in Madagascar, because you know there's no snow in Madagascar," he said. "But if there are other people outside in Europe, in Asia, or North America who want to do different other sports, to participate in the development of Madagascar, then this is what we encourage, and that's what we're here for, and to help these people in living their dreams."

Philippe's brother Mathieu achieved his dream of competing in the Olympics when he raced in the giant slalom on Monday. He placed 39th of the 41 men who finished both runs. Mathieu Razanakolona will compete one last time for Madagascar at these Olympics when he races in Saturday's slalom.

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