Olympian aims to get Eritreans on skis

Olympian aims to get Eritreans on skis
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Flag of Eritrea

They probably aren’t medal contenders but some athletes wouldn’t be at the Winter Olympics at all in PyeongChang unless they opted represent other countries. It happens at the Summer Olympics, too.

Indeed while the podium spots may be out of reach, they are sure to create a buzz — not to mention history, in some cases — in South Korea.

Here are five.

Shannon-Ogbani Abeda, alpine skiing, Eritrea

Abeda is set to become Eritrea’s first ever winter Olympian. And with that, the 21-year-old is the flag bearer, too.

He was born in northern Alberta, Canada, after his parents fled the Northeast African nation that borders Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti.

Like many kids growing up in Canada, ice hockey was his first love. But his parents weren’t especially keen.

“I wanted to be a hockey player, but they decided against that, and thought skiing was a good activity for me to do,” he told the BBC. “My parents were too concerned about injuries (as) a hockey player.”

He made the point that ski racers also rack up a lot of injuries. The knees are particularly affected, as Abeda knows first hand.

The computer science student almost certainly wouldn’t have qualified for the Olympics if he represented Canada yet he told the CBC he now intends to “put Eritrea on the map.”

“Right now my focus is to go to the Olympics, but afterward I’d like to finish school, do some coaching and get the Eritrean community on some skis,” he said.

Albin Tahiri, alpine skiing, Kosovo

Unlike Eritrea — where the lowest average temperature in the capital city of Asmara hovers at 18 degrees Celsius — Kosovo is accustomed to snow.

And Tahiri has been skiing his whole life.

He spends most of his time in his native Slovenia but jumped at the opportunity to represent Kosovo.

“When I started skiing, Kosovo was not an independent country,” he was quoted as saying by PyeongChang 2018. “My father always cheered for Kosovan athletes and I did it as well, so when Kosovo proclaimed independence I wanted to help by representing the country as an athlete.”

Like Abeda, the 28-year-old Tahiri is Kosovo’s first winter Olympian and its flag bearer. He’ll be busy on the slopes, scheduled to compete in all five alpine events.

His participation marks another step on the sporting ladder for Kosovo, which earned its first ever Olympic gold medal through wrestler Majlinda Kelmendi in Rio two years ago and recently concluded its first ever qualifying campaign for football’s World Cup.

Kent Callister, snowboard, Australia

Like it or not, Callister may forever be known as a relative of Vegemite creator Cyril Callister. According to the PyeongChang 2018 website, the latter was his great uncle.

For those not in the know, the yeast extract spread was invented in Australia to rival a similar product — Britain’s Marmite — and became a hit. So much so that the National Museum Australia lists Vegemite as a “symbol” of the nation.

“In the 1950s, Vegemite spoke of Australian vitality and innocence,” wrote the NMA. “Today it provides a connection back to seemingly simpler times and is symbolic of the reverence for the ordinary in Australian culture.”

Kent Callister was born in San Diego to an Australian father, moved to Australia, then returned to the US. He chose to represent Australia after receiving a scholarship from its Olympic Winter Institute.

The 22-year-old made a splash in Sochi four years ago, finishing ninth in the halfpipe and has been ranked as high as fourth although he is currently 43rd in the standings.

Matt Dalton, ice hockey, South Korea

When South Korea battles Canada in men’s ice hockey on Feb. 18, the game is sure to take on added significance for half-a-dozen members of the home team: They were all born in Canada but are playing for South Korea, having become naturalized.

Goalie Dalton is one of the bunch. He figures to be busy, yet not as busy as he might have initially expected since no NHL break means no NHLers on site.

South Korea’s head coach is Jim Paek, who was the first South Korean to play in the NHL. He won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Paek insisted there was nothing wrong with the native Canadians being on the team.

“They’ve been here longer than I’ve been here,” he told CTV. “So they are, in a sense, more Korean than I am.”

Isadora Williams, figure skating, Brazil

Williams — Brazil’s first ever Olympic figure skating entrant in Sochi in 2014 — is one of nine athletes on the South American nation’s team.

The 22-year-old was born and resides in the US — currently attending New Jersey’s Montclair State University — but her mom is Brazilian.

Williams told MSU’s student newspaper she is intent on improving from her 30th place finish in Sochi.

“My first Olympics did not go as well as I had hoped,” she said. “It kind of sucked working towards something and it not going as well as you’d hoped. It was three minutes, but it felt like my whole skating career was over.

“But I decided to get back into skating, and I’m just happy to have another chance to perform to my potential.”