Perspectives Sports

The African Stars Of The Winter Olympics

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Zimbabwe and Togo make their Olympic Winter Games debuts in Russian Sochi. Morocco participating already for the fifth time. In an interview with BBC World Philip Boit, Kenya’s first international skier, and Gold Medal Winner Norwegian Bjoern Daehlie, recall their unexpected friendship that started at the Nagano Winter Olympics 1998.

Togo, Zimbabwe. On the occasion of the XXII. Olympic Winter Games in Sochi taking place from February 7 to 23, the BBC had two sports heroes talk about their friendship that started in 1998 at the Winter Olympics in Nagano / Japan. Philip Boit from Kenya and Bjoern Daehlie from Norway remember. Boit was born into a farming family in western Kenya, home to some of the world’s fastest runners, but when the sportswear company Nike came looking for a runner prepared to to train as a cross-country skier, the 26-year-old stepped forward. After training on roller skis in sunny Kenya, as well as in Finland, he qualified for the 10 km classic style event at the Winter Olympics.

“It was a bit challenging at first because I had never experienced cold weather like that in my life,”

he says in the interview, remembering his first trip to Finland, where he went to train. In Nagano, his rivals included the world’s most successful cross-country skier, Bjorn Daehlie, who was and remains a huge icon in Norway, where the sport is as popular as football. As expected Bjorn Daehlie won the event. But instead of going straight to the medal ceremony, he waited for the final competitor to finish the race – Philip Boit. Boit describes the crowd “going wild” when he eventually entered the stadium and says he can remember getting a sudden burst of energy.

“They were shouting ‘Kenya GO!, Philip GO!’ It was like I was winning a medal even though I was last.”

He finally crossed the finish line 20 minutes after Daehlie and was embraced by the Norwegian star. Just weeks after Boit named his first child after the Norwegian icon. Now 16, Daehlie Boit has visited his namesake several times, most recently during the World Championships in Oslo in 2011, when he was joined by his parents and younger siblings Olympia, Faith and Alex. Boit wasn’t the first black African at the Winter Olympics – Senegalese skier Lamine Gueye beat him by 14 years – and since 1998, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar have debuted at the Olympic Winter Games, and Zimbabwe and Togo will compete for the first time in Sochi.

More about Philip Boit Born in Eldoret, Kenya in 1971, he participated in Winter Olympics in Nagano, Salt Lake City and Turin and in the World Championships in Ramsau, Sapporo, Liberec and Oslo. He now runs a farm, teaches roller-skiing and has been an adviser to Kenya’s Olympic Committee.

More About Bjorn Daehlie Born in Elverum, Norway, in 1967, he is an eight-time Olympic and seven-time World champion (three relay titles), won a total of 29 Olympic and World Championship medals. He now is a sports clothing and property entrepreneur and coach.


2014 XXII. Olympic Winter Games in Sochi / Russia

Luke Steyn is starting for Zimbabwe

The 20-year-old will become Zimbabwe’s first Winter Olympics athlete when he races in the slalom and giant slalom at the 2014 Games in Sochi – the final stage of a journey from his sweltering, snowless country of birth to the University of Colorado and beyond.Steyn was born in Harare, but moved with his family to Switzerland at 2, then to France and finally London. Steyn, who is 20, continued with European skiing academies and wound up at the University of Colorado. Steyn was born in Harare, but moved with his family to Switzerland at 2, then to France and finally London. Steyn, who is 20, continued with European skiing academies and wound up at the University of Colorado. Read more about Luke on Al Jazeera.

Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean is starting for Togo

Togo will have a competitor in the cross-country skiing: Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean, born in 1994 in Niger of a French father and a Togolese mother, lives in France since her childhood. In the junior category 2, she was vice-champion of France. In Young 2, she won three titles of vice-champion of France in sprint, mass start and skiathlon. With these titles, no doubt that Mathilde is a great future skier who could wait for the right moment to move with the France team. But she will compete for Togo, knowing that she can never represent France. Read more about Mathilde-Amivi on All Africa. 

Alessia Afi Dipol is starting for Togo

Alessia is actually Italian-born and has been competing abroad – most recently for India. But she is also a naturalised Togolese citizen and decided to join the Togolese team in order to get a space at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Aged 18, Dipol will be taking part in the slalom and giant slalom events.

Kenza Tazi is starting for Morocco

Morocco has competed in the Winter Olympics five times, but at age 17 Kenza Tazi will be its youngest entrant yet. The schoolgirl was first spotted on the slopes of the French Alps, where she studies, and has since become a sensation in skiing circles. Tazi is set to take part in the slalom and giant slalom.

Adam Lamhamedi is starting for Morocco

Morocco and Africa’s big medal hopeful at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games is Adam Lamhamedi. An alpine skier, he made history in 2012 by becoming the first African to win a medal at a Winter Olympics event – namely a gold medal at the Winter Youth Olympic Games. Now with enough credit under his belt, Lamhamedi has qualified to represent his country in alpine skiing at Sochi.+

Mehdi Selim Khelifi is NOT starting for Algeria

A competitive skier since 2009, Mehdi Selim Khelifi is Algeria’s sole entry in the Winter Olympics. He previously competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics, taking part in the cross-country event. Though he has dual citizenship between Algeria and France, Khelifi competes under Algeria’s colours.

bw Note from the editor: I have decided not to include the political discussion about the Sochi Games here, but concentrate on introducing three fine sports people.

Please check out the website and the schedule of the Olympic Winter Games 2014.  Get updates on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @sochi2014.