KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Togo's first competitor at the Winter Olympics, cross-country skier Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean, hopes her debut in Sochi will inspire other African athletes to compete in winter sports.
Petitjean crossed the line in the women's 10-kilometer classical race Thursday in 68th place, nearly 10 minutes behind winner Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland.
"I think all the people in all (African) countries are happy for me," said Petitjean, who turns 20 next Wednesday. "It's good for African countries that they see it's possible to participate in the Winter Olympic Games."
Togo's first Winter Olympics team consists of Petitjean and Alpine skier Alessia Afi Dipol, who is set to compete in the women's giant slalom and slalom next week. Italian-born, 18-year-old Dipol, however, has no family ties to Togo. She has become a naturalized citizen.
Petitjean was born in Niger to a Togolese mother. The family moved to Haute-Savoie in the French Alps when she was aged two. Becoming a skier, then, wasn't as unusual for her as it is for most Togolese girls.
"I practiced cross-country since I was 12 years old," she said. "It happened by chance. I tried it and continued doing it."
Spending most of her life in France, Petitjean never considered becoming an Olympian for Togo until she was being asked to.
Her Olympic adventure started 11 months ago. In March, she received a Facebook message from an official from the Togolese ski federation, enquiring whether she would be interested in representing Togo at the Sochi Games.