Olympic dreams under flags of convenience

Olympic dreams under flags of convenience

22nd February 2010, Comments 0 comments

This year’s Winter Olympics is a platform for athletes who have switched allegiance to compete in the limelight: a Canadian ice hockey player for Switzerland, a French-born skier for Morocco and a Scottish skier for Ghana.

Whistler – From a Moroccan skier with no chance of Olympic glory, to a Russian-born, Slovakian medal winner, the Winter Olympics are peppered with athletes flying the flag of convenience.

Some have made their way to Canada by exploiting rules that give athletes from 'smaller' countries an Olympic lifeline while others have the talent and have simply switched nationalities.

Winning citizenship, then gold
Biathlete Anastazia Kuzmina once won world junior titles for Russia but on Saturday she made history for Slovakia by winning gold in the women's 7.5 km event.

Her achievement was all the more poignant as her journey towards Slovakian citizenship was not an easy one.

Kuzmina's husband Daniel Kuzmin, an Israeli who is also her coach, said: "After marriage, we moved to Slovakia and it was very hard to get citizenship. It took a lot of hard work."

Among the Olympic ice hockey contingent at least five Canadians are plying their trade with adopted countries.

Having never played at senior level for his native Canada, Hnat Domenichelli is now an Olympian – in the colours of Switzerland.

Switzerland's Hnat Domenichelli (C)comes in on goalkeeper Ryan Miller(R) of the US during the Men's Ice Hockey preliminary game between USA and Switzerland at the Canada Hockey Place during the XXI Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada on 16 February 2010. The US won 3-1

A former NHL player who "kind of ran out of a spot" in the world's biggest league, he moved to Switzerland seven years ago, met his wife, stayed on and eventually became eligible for citizenship.

Skiing for snowless countries
Dow Travers' fine English accent belies the fact he will be the Cayman Islands' (a British overseas territory in the Caribbean) first ever Winter Olympian.

He went to boarding school in the UK, took up skiing during family holidays in Colorado and after training with a British ski academy in the French Alps he moved to Aspen.

It was there that his coach convinced him he could "get down to Olympic qualifying points if I could ski 60 days a year, and that set my mind on it."

Skiing is particularly kind when offering Olympic chances.

The 'Snow Leopard' Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong was born in Scotland, but represents snowless Ghana, where he was brought up.

After learning to ski while working at an indoor ski centre in England, Nkrumah-Acheampong battled to bring his points tally down below the magical 140-point qualifying barrier.

He achieved that and will now fly Ghana's flag in Whistler where he competes in the giant slalom.

"Some people were sceptical, others just did not believe that it was possible to train in such a short period of time and try and qualify, but I think now I can stand up and say it's possible," he said.

'Africans can ski'
Paris-born Samir Azzimani knows he won't challenge for medals in the slalom or giant slalom skiing.

But after marching solo and carrying the flag of Morocco – the country of his parents – he wants to show the world that Africans can ski.

"I want to be the top African, and beat the guys from Ghana or Senegal," he said. "And show the world that when it comes to Africans, we don't all do the snow plough."

One of the more controversial country switches was Vancouver-born Dale Begg-Smith's decision to represent Australia.

Australian silver medalist Dale Begg-Smith poses during the medal ceremony of the men's Moguls Freestyle Skiing at the BC Place during the Vancouver Winter Olympics on 15 February 2010 in Vancouver

The multi-millionaire, who won freestyle moguls gold in Turin in 2006, was beaten into the silver-medal position by Canada's Alexandre Bilodeau on Sunday.

Canadian Olympic Committee chief executive Chris Rudge refused to delight in Begg-Smith's loss of his title.

"I think we have to be careful when you put your feet in the shoes of an athlete competing in the Olympic Games," he said. "Perhaps he was just introspective and quiet."

AFP / Expatica

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