10 Tales of Warm-Weather Winter Olympians

MARK CARDWELL/AFP/Getty Images
MARK CARDWELL/AFP/Getty Images

The Winter Olympics are traditionally dominated by athletes from countries where winter brings freezing temperatures and snow, but that fact hasn't stopped a number of athletes from more tropical climates from infiltrating the ranks of the (c)old guard. From the Jamaican bobsled team to an Indian luger, here are 10 stories of warm-weather Winter Olympians.

1. THE JAMAICAN BOBSLED TEAM

Perhaps the most famous of all warm-weather Winter Olympians, the Jamaican bobsled team that inspired the 1993 film Cool Runnings made its debut in Calgary in 1988. Republican politician George Fitch, a former U.S. government attaché in Kingston who passed away in 2014, founded the original team. Three team members were in the military and had unsuccessfully tried out for the Jamaican national track and field team.

"Jamaica has great athletes, and bobsled is the winter sport that best coincides with the athletic skills you find there," Fitch told the Sun-Sentinel in 1988. "I only wanted to do this if we could be competitive and respectable. This is not a joke."

To offset the cost of its training and travel, the team sold copies of its official reggae song, "Hobbin' and A-Bobbin'," as well as T-shirts and sweatshirts. Jamaica's four-man team crashed and finished last in Calgary and didn't fare much better in 1992. The team showed dramatic improvement in later years and big things are expected of the women's team that will compete in this year's Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea; the team came in seventh at December's Winterberg World Cup.

2. THE SNOW LEOPARD

Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong celebrates finishing after the men's slalom race of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at the Whistler Creek side Alpine skiing venue on February 27, 2010.
MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP/Getty Images

In 2010, skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong—nicknamed the Snow Leopard—became the first Ghanaian to qualify for the Winter Olympics. Born in Scotland in 1974, while his father was teaching geography at Glasgow University, Nkrumah-Acheampong grew up in West Africa, where his only exposure to snow was on television.

After moving to the UK in 2000, the then-26-year-old learned to ski on an artificial slope after taking a job as a receptionist at an indoor skiing center in England. The Snow Leopard set his sights on the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, but crashed in his final qualifying race and narrowly missed the cut. He dedicated himself to improving his skills in the years that followed and that perseverance paid off when he officially qualified for the Vancouver Olympics in March 2009.

Yet Nkrumah-Acheampong had no delusions about competing for a medal. "I am a very realistic person and I know there is virtually no chance of that," he told the Vancouver Sun at the time. "I rather want to show people that you can do something when you come from a zero skier to qualifying for the Olympics in six years." Nkrumah-Acheampong took part in the men's slalom and finished in 53rd place (only 54 of the event's 102 competitors finished the race). Still, he was successful in making his intended point.

3. GRANDMA LUGE

Anne Abernathy of the Virgin Islands in action in the women's luge event during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Anne Abernathy graduated from American University in 1975 with a degree in theater arts and performed as a singer at nightclubs for several years before discovering luge on a trip to Lake Placid, New York in 1983. Twenty-three years and six trips to the Winter Olympics later, she retired as the oldest female athlete to compete in the Winter Games.

Abernathy, who lived in Florida but had dual-citizenship in the Virgin Islands, overcame lymphatic carcinoma to finish 16th at her first Winter Olympics in 1988. At 34, Abernathy was older than most of her competition in Calgary, and was given the nickname "Grandma Luge" during the early 1990s.

During a 2001 World Cup race in Germany, Abernathy suffered brain damage in a crash that split her helmet open and left her unconscious for 20 minutes. Thanks to innovative brain biofeedback therapy, Abernathy recovered in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Abernathy was prepared to make her sixth Winter Olympics appearance in Turin, but broke her wrist during a training run. While she was unable to start her event, she filed an application with the Court of Arbitration for Sport to be reinstated on the Olympic starters list. The committee agreed to include Abernathy's name on the starters list, making her women's record for Winter Olympic appearances official.

4. "THE NIKE PROJECT"

A crowd of spectators cheer as Kenyan Philip Boit finishes last during the men's 10km cross country event at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics
JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images

Philip Boit was a middle distance runner with no skiing experience when Nike approached him and one of his countrymen, Henry Bitok, in 1996 with an interesting proposal: move to Finland and train for the 1998 Winter Olympics on the shoe company's dime. Nike reportedly paid $200,000 for Boit and Bitok's lodging and a Finnish coach. Boit ultimately represented Kenya in Nagano, with Bitok serving as the alternate. He finished last in the 10-kilometer classic race, but was involved in one of the more memorable scenes of the 1998 Games. Norwegian Bjorn Daehlie won the race and waited 20 minutes for Boit to cross the finish line, greeting him with a hug. "Keep up what you're doing," Daehlie told Boit. "You're a champion, too."

While some criticized Nike for making a mockery of the Olympics in the name of stealth marketing, Boit—whose hat, collar, and sweater all bore the ubiquitous Nike swoosh—was moved by the experience, even naming one of his sons Daehlie.

Nike terminated its sponsorship of Boit after the 1999 Nordic skiing World Championships, but Boit, whose uncle Mike Boit won the bronze medal in the 800 meters at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, continued to dry train in Kenya. He participated in the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, finishing ahead of three competitors, and competed again at the 2006 Games in Turin. 

5. THE UNDERDOG ADVOCATE

8 Feb 1992: Lamine Gueye of Senegal skis down hill during the men''s downhill during the Olympic Games in Albertville, France
Mike Powell /Allsport/Getty Images

Lamine Guèye was enjoying a career as a model and actor, having landed a small role in the James Bond film Moonraker, when he founded the Senegalese Ski Federation in 1979. Five years later, Guèye became the first Winter Olympian from Senegal when he competed in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. After his first run, Guèye told reporters, "We have no word for downhill in Senegalese because we have no mountains. I was so afraid I almost threw up. I have fully tested the safety measures and can tell you that they work."

Guèye competed at the 1992 and 1994 Games as well, and has been critical of the International Olympic Committee's decision to make qualifying standards stricter after 1992—an effort to weed out some of the less polished athletes from countries without a rich history of winter sports. "The Olympic philosophy is that the whole world takes part," Guèye told Reuters in 2008. "You have the best in the world but you also have representatives from the lesser countries."

6. THE LUGER WHO DRIPPED BLOOD

Guèye wasn't the only competitor who seemed out of place in Sarajevo. Physicist George Tucker, a doctoral student at Wesleyan University, competed in luge as the only representative from his native Puerto Rico. Tucker, who lost a lot of skin bouncing off of the track walls, later described himself as "the luger who dripped blood." He finished last at his first Winter Olympics, but was wildly popular with the media and fans. Tucker, who was larger than the average luger, once recalled a story during his training prior to the 1984 Winter Olympics when a track worker accused him of being a "fat guy trying to pass himself off as an Olympic athlete."

7. THE PROFESSOR

Prawat Nagvajara of Thailand (L) competes at the men's 15km classical of the 2006 Winter Olympics' cross country in Pragelato, 17 February 2006.
MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images

Prawat Nagvajara stood a better chance of becoming an international rock star than an Olympic cross-country skier. But against all odds, the professor of engineering at Drexel University became the first athlete to represent Thailand at the Winter Olympics at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. Nagvajara played keyboard in a teenage rock band while growing up in Thailand and didn't see snow until he was 18. He said he was inspired to take up cross-country skiing and compete in the Olympics after watching Boit compete in 1998. Nagvajara qualified for Salt Lake City by competing at internationally sanctioned races and earning the blessing of the Thai Olympic Committee. He was disqualified in the 30-kilometer race after being lapped and finished 68th out of 71 racers in the 1.5-kilometer sprint. Nagvajara competed again in 2006.

8. THE MESSENGER

Isaac Menyoli of Cameroon competes in the Men's 10 km classical cross country skiing event at the XIX Olympic Winter Games at Soldier Hollow Utah
DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images

Isaac Menyoli took up cross-country skiing in 1997 when he moved from his native Cameroon to the United States to study architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Menyoli became the first Cameroonian to compete in the Winter Olympics when he took part in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, where he finished last in the 15-kilometer race. Menyoli didn't care much about his time, however. He competed in the necessary five Olympic qualifying races and spent $15,000 of his own money on training in order to use the Olympic platform to spread an important message to Cameroonian TV and radio stations about the AIDS epidemic affecting his country. "I want to ski for a reason," he told TIME in 2002. "I want to tell people that they really have to watch out, that AIDS is serious."

9. THE CHOSEN ONE OF 1.1 BILLION

India's Keshavan Shiva prepares to start in the men's singles luge training session at the Whistler sliding centre on February 13, 2010 during the 21st Vancouver Winter Olympics
OLIVER LANG/AFP/Getty Images

When members of the International Luge Federation were recruiting potential athletes from warm-weather countries to train to compete at the 1998 Nagano Games, one of the young men they chose was India's Shiva Keshavan. The ILF was looking to grow its sport and they saw potential in Keshavan. After all, he was familiar with snow. Keshavan, who had learned to ski while growing up at the foot of the Himalayas, was flown to Austria, where he and several other athletes recruited by the ILF were introduced to luge.

Keshavan was the first Indian to compete at the Winter Olympics and finished 28th in Nagano. He finished 33rd in Salt Lake City, 25th in Turin, 29th at Vancouver, and 37th at Sochi. This year, he'll take part in his sixth—and final—Olympic competition in PyeongChang.

10. THE PRINCE

Monaco's bobsleigh pilot prince Albert Grimaldi and his teammates wave to the public after their sled tipped over during the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images

Prince Albert II of Monaco competed in bobsled in five Winter Olympics from 1988 to 2002 before becoming ruler of Monaco upon the death of his father in 2005. The Prince, who serves on the International Olympic Committee, refused any royal treatment at the Olympics, opting instead to stay in the athletes village each time. His brakeman at the Calgary Games in 1988 was a casino croupier.

5 Times the Jig Was Up Because the Parrot Squawked

iStock
iStock

Most of our feathered friends can sing, but only a few can talk. And if those talkers witness something naughty, they might just tell on you.

1. SUSPICIOUS SWEET TALKING

A woman in Kuwait, where adultery is illegal, had been suspicious for some time that her husband was carrying on an affair with their housekeeper. There were little signs, like when she returned home from work early and noticed that he seemed nervous. But it was when the family parrot squawked unfamiliar sweet nothings that she decided to take her suspicions to the police. If her husband wasn’t saying those things to her, how was the parrot learning them? However, because it could not be proven that the parrot hadn’t heard the phrases from a steamy TV show, the bird's evidence was deemed inadmissible.

2. THAT'S NOT MY NAME

In another case of infidelity revealed with a squawk, a man was surprised to hear his beloved African Grey parrot Ziggy say, “Hiya Gary!” when his live-in girlfriend’s phone rang, because his name was not Gary. After he heard the parrot say, “I love you, Gary,” and make kissing sounds when the name Gary was said on TV, he confronted his girlfriend, who admitted she was having an affair with Gary. Not only did he lose his girlfriend, but when the parrot continued to chatter on about Gary in her voice, the man was forced to give his pet up too.

3. THE AWFUL LAST LAUGH

Even when other evidence is already damning, a parrot can add an extra sinister twist to a crime investigation. When an elderly woman was found in a filthy South Carolina home, covered in bedsores and near death, her daughter was charged with elder abuse and neglect (her mother died the next day). The police noted that a parrot in the house repeatedly cried for help and then laughed. They believe it was mimicking the interaction between the mother and daughter: The mother pleading for help and the daughter laughing.

4. REPLAYING THE LAST WORDS

After a Michigan man was found shot to death in his home, his parrot kept repeating a dialogue, alternating between a man and woman’s voice, that went: “Get out.” “Where will I go?” “Don’t f***ing shoot!” His wife—who police believe tried to kill herself but did not succeed—was charged with his murder and was convicted in 2017.

5. GIVING THE CRIMINAL AWAY

Tales of parrots giving the criminal away go back to the 19th century, when the leader of a Paris crime syndicate who went by Victor Chevalier escaped with his beloved parrot from the residence he shared with his wife Marie before the cops descended on him. When an officer was called to another residence for a seemingly unrelated search, he heard as he walked in, a parrot cry out “Totor! Riri!” which happened to be the pet names of Victor and Marie. The discovery of the parrot eventually led to the capture of Victor.

This piece originally ran in 2016.

11 Illuminating Facts About Netflix’s GLOW

Erica Parise, Netflix
Erica Parise, Netflix

GLOW is a brilliant show, and the way we know it’s brilliant is that it highlights a perfect tension between comedy and drama amid dozens of different personalities all trying to seriously find themselves in an activity no one takes seriously. Also, it had a drug-dispensing, '80s-style talking robot without devolving into pure silliness.

With Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin leading the ensemble, the show about an amateur women’s wrestling squad vying for a large enough paycheck to make all the training and ointment worth it is an absolute gem (as its six Emmy nominations prove). Here are 11 facts about Netflix’s comedic cage match.

1. PRODUCERS DIDN’T WANT ALISON BRIE IN THE CAST.

Alison Brie in 'GLOW'
Erica Parise, Netflix

Like her character, Ruth, Alison Brie got rejected a lot before getting the role, enduring a grueling casting process for producers and a casting director who wanted an unknown for the part. “I cried in my car after every audition,” she said. “I would sit in my care like Ruth and sob. And we were both listening to the same Ultimate ‘80s mix while [we] audition[ed], so Flock of Seagulls was playing.”

2. THE CAST’S TRAINER IS THE NEPHEW OF THE GUY WHO TRAINED THE REAL-LIFE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING.

Professional wrestler Armando “Mando” Guerrero took on the task of teaching the motley crew of women who made up the real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling back in 1985. He was reportedly an intense coach, putting at least one woman in a headlock until she cried on the first day of training. All these years later, it’s his nephew, Chavo Guerrero Jr., who has the privilege of training the fictional wrestlers of GLOW, as well as choreographing their fights and acting in two episodes.

3. KIA STEVENS IS A WRESTLER IN REAL LIFE.

Kia Stevens and Betty Gilpin in 'GLOW'
Beth Dubber, Netflix

The cast is full of actresses who all work with trainers to catch up on all the chiropractor-defying moves they have to do, but Kia Stevens (who plays Tammé “The Welfare Queen” Dawson) has been making those moves for decades. Wrestling under the name Awesome Kong and Amazing Kong, she’s a five-time Women’s Champion. Stevens has also wrestled in the WWE as Kharma.

4. BRIE SEES RUTH AS “SEXLESS."

One of the catalysts of the show’s plot is Ruth having an affair with her best friend Debbie’s (Betty Gilpin) husband (Rich Sommer), but the rest of the show is hardly romantic for Ruth, which is probably why Brie views the character as “sexless.”

“I don’t think she thinks of herself as being very sexual,” Brie told The A.V. Club. “It’s a major difference between my character and Betty Gilpin’s character, who has been a successful actress and has a bombshell body, and every time you see her she’s in full hair and makeup ... I don’t think that Ruth is not having sex with guys every once in a while. I’m sure she does. I just don’t think it’s a main part of her life goals.” Even the adultery that kicks off the show is less about sex than it is about someone who feels invisible and rejected being seen and accepted by someone else.

5. WORKING WITH WOMEN BOSSES MADE BETTY GILPIN REFLECT ON HER ENTIRE CAREER.

Rich Sommer and Betty Gilpin in 'GLOW'
Erica Parise, Netflix

GLOW is rare for having so many women in the cast and behind the camera, something that the actors have noted affected the shooting environment as a “protected, feminist bubble.” For Gilpin, it also raised some questions about herself.

“Being on a set with female bosses [co-showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch], the level of comfort and bravery I felt really made me reflect back on my whole career," Gilpin told The Hollywood Reporter. "I’d always known about things that men did that made me shut down creatively, but I was surprised to reflect on things that I did to myself as a result of being in a male-dominated environment ... I felt a level of fear and anxiety that if I didn’t behave like the quiet Barbie I was playing, they wouldn’t let me play a quiet Barbie again."

6. IT ALSO MADE GILPIN FIGHT HARDER AGAINST THE MALE GAZE.

Since Gilpin doesn’t have a stunt double, and she’s doing the wrestling moves herself, GLOW has forced her to reexamine how she views her body while acting. Specifically, she’s gotten a lot less self-conscious and unshackled her movements from fear of the male gaze.

“The way we think about our bodies is completely changing,” Gilpin told The Huffington Post. Where she used to take workout classes designed to avoid bulking up, now she can lift some heavy weights. “I think that it’s our job to band together and say, ‘Okay, what are ways the male gaze has seeped into your brain and is affecting the way you treat yourself? Let’s work together to eliminate that.’”

7. THE SHOW CHANGED ONE IMPORTANT ELEMENT TO HOME IN ON THE CAMARADERIE.

Jackie Tohn, Jessica Gardner, Kimmy Gatewood, Rebekka Johnson, Alison Brie, Kia Stevens, Kate Nash, Ellen Wong, Shakira Barrera, Brigid Ryan, Becki Dennis, Gayle Rankin in 'GLOW'
Erica Parise, Netflix

They fight in the ring, they fight outside of it, they lift each other up, they undercut each other. It’s all part of the show’s drama and grounded realness. It’s a family, and to develop that sensibility, GLOW borrowed from the conditions the real-life women trained under. That includes staying two-to-a-room at a shabby motel, but the show dropped the forced separation of the good wrestler from the heels (the villains) during travel that the real GLOW athletes experience. They also didn’t make the characters call each other by their wrestling names outside the ring.

8. BROOKE HOGAN MADE A CAMEO.

Hulk Hogan's daughter made a brief appearance as a theater owner who rents her space to the ragtag production. She’s not nearly the only person from the wrestling world to make a cameo appearance, either.

9. WORKING ON GLOW IS LIKE BOARDING SCHOOL.

Marianna Palka, Jackie Tohn, Kimmy Gatewood, Rebekka Johnson, Kia Stevens, Betty Gilpin, Kate Nash, Ellen Wong, Shakira Barrera, Britney Young, Sunita Mani, and Gayle Rankin in 'GLOW'
Erica Parise, Netflix

Too often, shows have one spot in the cast for a woman. GLOW initially had 15. According to Gilpin, “I went to boarding school, and being on GLOW reminds me of that. When your call is 5:45 a.m., and there’s a group of 14 women all talking at once, it can be a little much, but it’s also the greatest gift. It’s constant happiness and support all day, every day. I love it.”

10. THE MATCH BASH RECALLS SEEING IN SEASON 2 IS REAL.

There’s a moment in season 2 where Bash (Chris Lowell) described a personal memory of watching a match between Stan Hansen and Bruno Sammartino where the former busted the latter’s neck. The match is real. So is the injury.

At Madison Square Garden, on April 26, 1976, Sammartino was defending his world title against Hansen when Hansen failed to properly execute a body slam and cracked one of Sammartino’s vertebrae. They were back in the ring two months later in a rematch.

11. THE SERIES WILL BE COMING BACK FOR A THIRD SEASON.

On August 20, 2018—more than two months after GLOW's second season dropped on Netflix—entertainment outlets began reporting that the series had officially been renewed by Netflix for a third season. The decision may not have been an easy one to make, however; as Variety reported: "Industry sources claim that the series is not among Netflix’s most watched, but is valued by the streaming service for its creative execution and status as an awards contender."

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