Despite the general lack of snow in Africa, athletes from 6 African nations competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver (February 12 - 28). It was a determined bunch of largely self-financed athletes who shared a common dream that embodies the Olympic spirit. None were expected to medal. For most of them, just getting to Vancouver was reason enough to celebrate.
Many African athletes fail to even get to the Olympics because of a lack of money as well as sports equipment and training facilities (no snow is of course a major setback). The athletes that do make it scrape up money to train in Europe, Canada or the US. Some put wheels under their skis to be able to train at home. Find out below who Africa's Winter Olympians were, what sports they competed in, and their results.
Ghana at the 2010 Winter OlympicsGhana, land of sea and sun sent their very first Winter Olympic athlete to Vancouver. Alpine skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, nicknamed "The snow-leopard", is a self-taught, self-funded skier who had not seen snow until his 20's. He managed to gain enough points to qualify for the Olympics by racing in Iran, Bosnia, Turkey and other less traditional skiing nations. He will be aiming to stay upright and run a personal best time all while wearing his signature black and white leopard-print suit. He told the Daily Telegraph that he's encouraging young kids in Ghana to take up skiing "We gave them grass skis and then took them to a fish refrigeration unit at Tema to let them feel what the cold is like".
Results: Kwame finished a highly respectable 47th out of 102 starters in his slalom event.
Kenya at the 2010 Winter OlympicsKenya is well known for its excellent athletes and Philip Boit started his sporting life as a middle-distance runner. He was planning to compete in his fourth Winter Olympics, in cross-country skiing (15k). In the mid-1990's Nike had the bright idea of trying to turn some of Kenya's fine runners into cross-country skiers. Philip Boit made it to the 1998 Olympics as Kenya's first Winter Olympic athlete. Four years ago in Turin he hoped to finish in the middle of the pack, (he has never been in the running for a medal) but unfortunately fell behind his personal goal. Vancouver was to be his last hurrah, but a change in rules left him scrambling for points to qualify just days before the start of the Games.
Philip had trained in the US and Finland for the Vancouver Olympics. He lost his farm in the unrest that plagued Kenya a year ago, but with the help of fellow Olympians, managed to raise money to re-build.
Morocco at the 2010 Winter OlympicsMorocco has some ski slopes and a ski team but were embarrassed by the performance of their Alpine skiers in the 1992 Olympics. Several athletes were disqualified, one kept falling down, another was lapped during the giant slalom. Since then they've been frugal in who they send. In 2006, Morocco hoped to send Africa's first female Alpine skiier to the Olympics, Sarah Ben Mansour, but she got injured and could not compete.
In Vancouver, Morocco's hopes rest with Samir Azzimani who will compete in the slalom and giant slalom (fingers crossed for no embarrassment). Samir was a foster child who had the opportunity to spend some time at a holiday camp in the French Alps where he learned to ski. He had to work very hard to be able to continue to train and finally qualified for the Turin Olympics in 2006, where he too failed to compete due to an injury.
Results: Samir finished 74 (out of 103) in the Giant Slalom
Ethiopia at the 2010 Winter OlympicsEthiopia has lots of beautiful mountains, but no snow. Despite this setback, Ethiopia has sent its one and only Winter Olympic athlete to Vancouver, Robel Teklemariam. Robel uses roller skis when he's in Ethiopia, but also trains in Europe when his finances allow for that. Robel started skiing in the US, he graduated from high school in Colorado. He's a cross-country skier and this is his second Olympics. You can follow Robel's fascinating blog here.
Results: Robel finished 93 (out of 95) in the men's 15km freestyle.
South Africa at the 2010 Winter OlympicsSouth Africa is probably the only African country with the happy combination of some snowfall, decent sports facilities and a sports mad population. The South Africans sent 3 athletes to Vancouver. All of the Olympians, Peter Scott (Alpine), Oliver Kraas (cross-country) and Bruce Warner (Paralympics Alpine) live and train in Europe. This will be Peter Scott's first Olympics, the other two athletes have competed at this level at previous Games. Both Scott and Warner are coached by South African Alpine skier, Alexander Heath, Africa's most successful Winter Olympian to date.
Results: Oliver Kraas finished 61 out of 62 in the Men's individual sprint classical.
Peter Scott unfortunately did not finish the Giant Slalom (but nor did Bode Miller ...)
Senegal at the 2010 Winter OlympicsSenegal, another land of sea and sun was represented by Leyti Seck, competing in his second Winter Olympics. He has been training hard in Austria for the past 10 months and hopes to do better than in Turin where he placed 55th and failed to finish in the slalom. In 2010, he is hoping for a personal best performance.
Leyti is not the first Senegalese athlete to compete in a Winter Olympics. His fellow countryman Lamine Guèye was the first black African skier to ever compete in the Olympics. Lamine is the current president of the Senegalese Ski Federation and an active advocate for the rights of all countries to participate equally in the Winter Olympics.
Results: Leyti finished 73 (out of 104) in the Giant Slalom but failed to finish the men's slalom (along with Bode Miller....).
Algeria in the 2010 Winter OlympicsAlgeria has one athlete competing in Vancouver - Meidhi-Selim Khelifi, a cross-country skier. In Turin (2006), Algeria sent 2 athletes including Africa's only female contestant, Christelle Laura Douibi.
Results: Meihdi-Selim finished a respectable 84 (out of 94) in the Men's 15 km freestyle.