News / Europe

Athletes Return to Tropical Roots to Reach Winter Olympics

Jasmine Campbell training at her home mountain, Sun Valley Resort in Idaho. (T. Banse/VOA)
Jasmine Campbell training at her home mountain, Sun Valley Resort in Idaho. (T. Banse/VOA)
Tom Banse
Next month, Sochi, Russia will host athletes from about 90 nations at the Winter Olympics. Some of the countries sending athletes might surprise you.

Not only will the celebrated Jamaican bobsledders be back, but so will skiers from countries that rarely, if ever, see snowfall, such as Brazil, Zimbabwe and Thailand. Olympic athletes also hail from countries like Peru which have snowy peaks, but not much of a winter sports tradition.

And Denmark, where it gets cold certainly, but there's a conspicuous lack of mountains. Australian, Peruvian and Virgin Islands winter Olympians have found a snowy training ground in the American West.

Alpine skier Jasmine Campbell, who was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and will carry its flag in Sochi, is one of them.

The 22-year-old college student takes her quest very seriously. She aims to compete in the slalom and giant slalom events.

The two Olympic-caliber skiers who race for the US Virgin Islands both have Idaho ties. Jasmine Campbell (left), here with Veronica Gaspar, received the one slot in Sochi allocated to the US territory.The two Olympic-caliber skiers who race for the US Virgin Islands both have Idaho ties. Jasmine Campbell (left), here with Veronica Gaspar, received the one slot in Sochi allocated to the US territory.
x
The two Olympic-caliber skiers who race for the US Virgin Islands both have Idaho ties. Jasmine Campbell (left), here with Veronica Gaspar, received the one slot in Sochi allocated to the US territory.
The two Olympic-caliber skiers who race for the US Virgin Islands both have Idaho ties. Jasmine Campbell (left), here with Veronica Gaspar, received the one slot in Sochi allocated to the US territory.
"It's just basically an 18-hour job where I'm always thinking about skiing," Campbell said. "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."

Campbell took up ski racing soon after her family moved to the northwest U.S. state of Idaho from the Caribbean when she was around 10 years old. It did not take long before she was dreaming of being on the U.S. ski team.

A high school injury derailed her ambitions for a while but these days Campbell exceeds the minimum standards to ski at the Olympics. But she does not think she could qualify for the highly competitive Team USA.

Her father, who skied in the 1992 Winter Olympics on the Virgin Islands team, encouraged his daughter to hold on to her Olympic dreams by following his path.

"It was probably the coolest two weeks of my entire life, barring having kids and getting married," said John Campbell. "I'm really excited for Jasmine to have this opportunity."

Decades ago, territories such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, Bermuda and Hong Kong successfully petitioned the International Olympic Committee for the right to field teams separate from their mother countries.

This year, Togo, Tonga, East Timor, Malta and Zimbabwe are set to make their debuts at the Winter Games.

"We're seeing more and more entries from these parts of the world," said Janice Forsyth, who directs the International Center for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario.

Forsyth says she's noticed a dogged effort by the IOC to expand interest and visibility of the Winter Games by including more predominantly warm weather countries.

"Because of course, the more countries that participate in the Games - especially in different parts of the world - the more spectators they get, which means more revenue in terms of broadcasting rights," she said. "There's a real business incentive behind this interest to get more and more nations, especially tropical nations, into the Olympic Games."

Forsyth is not surprised some athletes look for alternate routes into the Games via tropical nations. But residency requirements are designed to foil interlopers. In the case of the U.S. Virgin Islands, a relocated winter athlete would have to live for three years in a place where it never snows.

Jasmine Campbell qualifies based on skill and being born in the Virgin Islands. She says she proudly wears the uniform of a nation she has not lived in for many years.

"I almost prefer doing it this way because I really get to recognize and honor a part of me that never really gets to be brought up," she said.

Many of the other athletes who will represent tropical countries next month have memorable back stories.

The South Pacific island nation of Tonga’s first Winter Olympian is a former rugby player turned luge competitor. He legally changed his name to Bruno Banani, the name of a German underwear company sponsor.

Thailand will be represented by an alpine skier actually raised in Britain. She is much better known for her other career as the violinist Vanessa-Mae.

Mexico will be represented in Sochi by a German prince who was born in Mexico. At age 55, Hubertus von Hohenlohe will be the second oldest athlete ever to compete in the Winter Games. The oldest was a 58-year-old Swedish curler at the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs