Food & Culture

How Do You Qualify for the Winter Olympics If It Doesn't Snow Where You Live?

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Get ready for a harsh truth. "Cool Runnings" is not a good movie. Just ask the real Jamaican bobsled team. But it does raise an interesting question. When the Winter Olympics comes around, how do the competitors from decidedly un-snowy climates prepare?

The Ski's the Limit

One of the most memorable moments of the 2016 Olympics came when Tongan flag-bearer (and taekwondo competitor) Pita Taufatofua entered the arena with a flashy grin and a much flashier, oil-covered six-pack. But in early January 2018, news began circulating that he had his eyes on another competition — one that would require a bit more clothing than his most famous appearance. By the end of the month, he'd put in his dues and qualified as a cross-country skier in the 2018 Winter Olympics, despite the fact that his Polynesian home country never sees snow. So how did he make the grade?

Two words: roller-skiing.

Three more words: that looks painful. As that '80s-tastic clip proves, it's not exactly new. But in past years, Taufotafua would have had to find a way to earn a qualifying time in actual snow. In fact, he's done so anyway, competing in Finland (and coming in 153rd of 156). Because the International Ski Federation has loosened the qualifying requirements in order to welcome more warm-weather competitors, those unwieldy, dangerous-looking roller-skis are his ticket to the Olympics. We're guessing he'll be happy to strap into a pair of normal skis and be surrounded by soft, white snow. As he told the Wall Street Journal, "I destroyed myself on those things. I think they're made by the devil."

Snow Giving Up

Of course, our charmingly shiny friend from Tonga isn't the only winter athlete from a summery clime. Actually, 2014 turned out to be a banner year for warm-weather countries signing up for the Winter Olympic Games, and 2018 is shaping up to be a worthy follow-up. Ecuador, Nigeria, Malaysia, Singapore, and others are slated to make their frosty debut this year, and each country and event has its own set of rules and strategies to qualify. Some countries, like the Virgin Islands, simply recruit athletes from more suitable climates. But others have to come up with more creative solutions.

Unfortunately, Thời Đình Trịnh didn't qualify, but we'd be remiss if we didn't bring him up. The young Vietnamese athlete practiced all 2017 to become his home country's first professional snowboarder ... except he'd never even seen snow before that year. He'd travel to the coastal fishing village of Mũi Né, where he'd strap on his board and head down the slopes — a formation of beautiful red sand dunes. He even went on to compete in the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, where he placed 18th (of 24). Honestly, just the fact that he made it in is pretty impressive.

Written by Reuben Westmaas February 2, 2018

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