The Sochi Network

7 debutant Winter Olympic nations and the tales of those competing

The Sochi Network

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The 2014 Winter Olympics will be the biggest yet with 90 nations set to compete in Sochi.

Seven nations are expected to make their Winter Olympic debut and their athletes have some interesting backgrounds.

DOMINICA

An island nation with a population of 70,000 in the Caribbean Sea about 700 miles off the coast of Venezuela.

A tropical rainforest climate and temperatures that dip no longer than 13°C on the highest peaks (which are not that high) are not exactly ideal for Winter Sports.

Dominica will send a husband and wife, Angelica and Gary di Silvestri, who will compete in the 15km and 10km classical events in Cross Country Skiing.

The couple have attended Ski camps in Oregon since 2005 and their coach J.D. Downing will be head coach and “Chef de Mission”.

Gary, who will be 47 when he competes in his race, was a star American Footballer and wrestler at Monsignor Farrell High School on Staten Island in New York before attending Georgetown University and doing a Masters at Columbia University.

He made a fortune in equity asset management in London banks in the mid-90s until his retirement to pursue professional skiing.

MALTA

The 122-square mile island in the Mediterranean Sea has a high point of 830 feet although the five hours of sunshine per day in December mean it is hard to ski down it.

Their population of 450,000 does not includes Elise Pellegrin but her great-grandfather was born in Malta and that prompted her to seek citizenship and pursue her Olympic dream.

Pellegrin's great-grandfather moved to France for work and the 22-year-old was born and raised in the region of Loir-et-Cher.

Pellegrin first visited Malta in 2012 and competed in last year's World Championship for her adopted country, finishing 67th in the Giant Slalom and 69th in the Slalom.

“I’m really excited and proud to represent Malta – my roots are from there and it’s very important to me,” she told The Times of Malta before her international debut.

PARAGUAY

A subtropical climate in Asuncion, Paraguay's capital, where temperatures average around 90 degrees in the summer, mean the landlocked South American country has yet to have a Winter Olympian until now.

Julia Marino was born in Paraguay but was adopted by an American family at the age of six months and has lived in Virginia since.

Marino, who competes in the first Freestyle Skiing slope style event, visited her birthplace for the first time in November and her tour included press conferences and a breakfast television interview.

The 21-year-old is currently studying psychology at the University of Colorado but is taking time off to focus on the Olympics.

She has four top-20 finishes in the World Cup including a second place at March's event in Sierra Nevada prompting hopes that we may even hear the Paraguayan national anthem in Sochi, although it is unclear whether she knows the words.

TIMOR LESTE

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Possibly the biggest fairytale story is that of Alpine Skier Yohan Goutt Goncalves who has become the first athlete from his country at any Olympics, Summer or Winter, to qualify by meeting the qualification standard.

Timor Leste, or East Timor, became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century after Indonesia relinquished control of the territory and they competed in the 2004 Athens Games.

Slalom racer Goncalves has a French father and grew up in the country, putting on his first pair of skis aged two-and-a-half at Val d’Isère, but his mother is from East Timor.

The 19-year-old told France 24: “I wanted to go to the Olympics representing East Timor as it would be a double experience. Of course there is the competition, but also the chance to play the role of diplomat. It’s a brand new country, only formed in 2002 and still developing. I particularly want to show that there is more to East Timor than war.”

A 25th place finish in a FIS race, the tier below the World Cup, in Serbia in December sealed his place in Russia.

TOGO

Ask someone to name a single person from Togo and most people will answer Emmanuel Adebayor but the tropical, sub-Saharan nation in West Africa is double handed across two sports in Sochi.

Alessia Afi Dipol will compete in Alpine Skiing's slalom and giant slalom while Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean will go in the 10km Cross Country competition.

Petitjean was born in Niger of a French father and a Togolese mother before moving to Europe as a toddler.

Her Olympic chance came through Social Media.

"The Togolese Federation contacted me through Facebook in May because they had a plan to build a team for Sochi. I thought with my parents, but it is I who made the choice. Although my parents are fully in what I do, they never choose own my behalf," Petitjean, who has won FIS approved junior races in France, said.

TONGA

The Polynesian sovereign state and archipelago of 100,000 people is the only debut nation not to send a skier.

Luger Fuahea Semi will compete for the nation although he is now known as Bruno Banani after changing his name to that of a German lingerie company as part of a marketing ploy.

Semi finished 28th out of 42 in a World Cup event in Utah in December to qualify.

He was a student and rugby player in his homeland when in 2008 he was persuaded to change his name before beginning Luge training in Germany and competing in events, wearing the company's gear with a logo reading "coconut powered".

Thomas Bach, now the International Olympic Committee president, said it was a "perverse" marketing idea.

The International Luge Federation said the issue of what name Semi/Banani uses at Sochi is in the hands of the IOC.

ZIMBABWE

Luke Steyn was born in the landlocked Southern African country but moved at the age of two to Switzerland.

He lived all over Europe, including Britain, growing up and the 20-year-old is now on the ski team at the University of Boulder Colorado in the USA.

"Though I have moved from Zimbabwe, I still feel very much connected to it," Steyn said. "As they say, it's in your blood, and I hope to live and work in Africa again one day."

Steyn competed in the 2012 British Championships in Meribel, finishing behind five of our competitors in the Slalom and behind 13 in the Giant Slalom - the two events he will compete in in Sochi.

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