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Olympic Non-Medalists Find Reason to Celebrate


While the medalists get most of the attention and publicity at the Olympics, competitors who know they have no chance of winning aim for other achievements.

This ski resort where some of the Olympic alpine events are being held is nearly a two-hour drive from downtown Turin.

There were 82 starters in the men's giant slalom, representing 46 countries. That was far more than in the earlier men's downhill and super-G races, which are faster and more dangerous.

One of the clear favorites, World Cup overall leader Benjamin Raich of Austria won the gold medal.

Among the nations represented that had virtually no chance of making the medals podium were Iran, Israel, Madagascar, Albania, Senegal, Argentina, Brazil and even China and South Korea.

Twenty seven-year-old South African skier Alex Heath surprised many by finishing 30th in the first run of the giant slalom. That meant he was the first starter in the second run.

"I got a lot of funny looks from the normal top 30 guys at the start," said Alex Heath. "They were wondering, 'Who is this guy?' But, really it's a great feeling. It's hard to describe, but you know it's great."

Heath also told VOA Sports he trains off and on in the northeast U.S. state of New Hampshire, where he helps support himself by working as a roofer.

"Not the greatest job in the world, but it pays the bills, haha," he said.

Heath, who finished 27th, says being able to compete in the Olympics for South Africa means a lot to him.

"It's such a great honor to be able to represent your country, and especially coming from a non-typical winter sports country," explained the South African skier. "It's great to be here and be somewhat competitive."

While Alex Heath skied first in the giant slalom's final run, Ivan Borisov of Kyrgystan skied last. He was about 43 seconds behind the leaders.

But since 34 competitors failed to finish the first run because of falls or missed gates, Borisov told VOA it was his goal to get a placing, no matter what his speed.

"It was very important for me to finish the second of the two runs," said Ivan Borisov. "It was very important and very good. I like racing in Italy."

The 26-year-old Borisov is the only athlete here at the Winter Olympics from Kyrgystan. The Secretary General of his nation's National Olympic Committee, Alan Usenov, put Borisov's participation in perspective.

"Of course he had not many hopes of being third or tenth, but it is a very great experience for him, very great," said Alan Usenov. "And you know, the main Olympic focus is not only to win, but participation is important."

Ivan Borisov placed 41st, or dead last, of those skiers who completed the two giant slalom runs. His combined time was more than one minute behind the three medalists. But like most athletes at the Olympic games, just being here is a reason to celebrate.

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