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

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs