Zimbabwe sends 1st athlete to Winter Olympics

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 30, 2014 at 11:26 am •  Published: January 30, 2014
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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe has seen a sprinkling of snow only once, and it wasn't even in Luke Steyn's lifetime.

Doesn't matter one bit.

The 20-year-old Steyn will still be the southern African country's first Winter Olympics athlete when he races in the slalom and giant slalom at the 2014 Games in Sochi — the final stage of a journey from his sweltering, snowless country of birth to the University of Colorado and beyond.

"He might not get a gold, but there's plenty of time," Kevin Atkinson, the head of the Zimbabwe Snow Sports Association, told The Associated Press. "It's great experience and a fantastic achievement to represent our country at the Winter Games."

Alongside Steyn's personal story, it's also remarkable that Zimbabwe has a snow sports organization. Snow has fallen in the country once, records indicate, more than 50 years ago when a freak light dusting settled in a central region in 1960.

But since Jamaica's bobsled team turned up at the 1988 Calgary Games with borrowed sleds and a dream, the Winter Olympics has become reachable for athletes from all sorts of countries — snow or not.

In Africa, Togo and Morocco also have athletes who have qualified for Sochi this year, while South Africa could have sent a slalom skier, too, but decided to turn his place down. The Cayman Islands, the Virgin Islands and tropical Tonga in the south Pacific will also send competitors to Sochi — itself one of the few places in Russia with a sub-tropical climate.

Of course, Steyn needed snow and therefore other countries to make his winter dream happen after first taking up skiing on family vacations in Europe. He perfected his art while studying in the United States, on trips to New Zealand and Chile, and then throughout Europe in a bid to qualify.

Backed by Zimbabwe's recently formed snow sports group and the national sports council, he said he drove about 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) through France, Italy and Switzerland in 20 days to gather enough points in his events to make the grade for Sochi before the Jan. 19 cutoff for qualifying.

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