CLOSE

Olympics 2010: Skiing Solo for a Snowless Nation

Jamaica is not sending a bobsled team to Vancouver for the Winter Games, but the Caribbean nation will be represented by one skier. Several countries will have only one participant in the Olympics, because there are no winter sports to speak of in these tropical lands. Yet sometimes the work of one person keeps the Olympic dream alive.

Errol Kerr

Errol Kerr is the sole Olympian from Jamaica this year. Lack of funding eliminated any other contender. Alpine skier Kerr grew up in Truckee, California, a product of a Jamaican father and an American mother. Kerr's father died when he was 12. His mother is an avid skier who started Kerr on skis when he was four years old. Olympic training on a budget means that Kerr only skis in winter, while better-funded alpine skiers travel to higher slopes or the southern hemisphere to train in the off-season.

You can follow Kerr on Twitter or his blog.

Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong

550_kwame

Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong is nicknamed "the Snow Leopard". The alpine skier will be the first ever athlete representing Ghana at the winter Olympics. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland but grew up in Ghana. Nkrumah-Acheampong only learned to ski nine years ago when he got at job at a ski resort in Milton Keynes, England, where he skied on artificial snow. The Snow Leopard did not qualify for the Turin Olympics only because his plane to the qualifiers in Iran was delayed in Amsterdam due to ice on the wings. Nkrumah-Acheampong is active in promoting winter sports in Ghana as well as a charity that builds schools in Ghana and another organization dedicated to saving the snow leopard.

Follow Nkrumah-Acheampong's progress on Facebook, Twitter, or his blog.

Samir Azzimani

550_azzimani

Samir Azzimani was born in France to Moroccan parents. He took up skiing at age six during a period of his life as a foster child. The alpine skier will be the sole athlete from Morocco in Vancouver. Azzimani created the Moroccan Olympic Association on his own in 2001, but did not participate in the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 due to insufficient funding. He was not in Turin 2006 due to an injury. But he will be in Vancouver next week to represent Morocco on the slopes.

Follow Azzimani's Olympic adventure on his blog.

Robel Teklemariam

550teklemariam

At the opening ceremonies for the Vancouver Olympics Friday, cross-country skier Robel Teklemariam will carry the flag for Ethiopia. He is the first winter Olympian ever from his country. Teklemariam came to the United States at age nine when his mother took a job with the UN in New York City and he fell in love with skiing the first time he tried it. He attended the University of New Hampshire on a full scholarship. This will be Teklemariam's second Olympic competition. He doesn't hold out much hope of winning a medal, but his goals are for the long term -he hopes to get more Ethiopians involved in skiing. Watch Teklemariam training in Ethiopia.

Follow Teklemariam on Twitter, Facebook, or his blog.

Dow Travers

550Travers_underwater

Dow Travers is the first ever winter Olympian from the Cayman Islands. That makes him a national hero in the tiny nation where the highest altitude is 141 feet above sea level! Travers learned to ski during family vacations in Beaver Creek, Colorado. The downhill skier is also a student at Brown University, where he plays on the rugby team and is majoring in geobiology. He has been training in Aspen for the Vancouver Olympics.

Follow Travers on Twitter.

Tucker Murphy

500tuckermurphy

Cross-country skier Tucker Murphy was supposed to be one of two Olympians from Bermuda, but countryman Patrick Singleton failed to qualify, leaving Murphy to carry the flag. Murphy graduated from Dartmouth, where he was on the rowing team as well as the ski team. He is attending Merton College at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. No Bermudan has ever competed in skiing events before at the Olympics.

Leyti Seck

540Leyti_Seck_OS

Vancouver will be the second time Leyti Seck represents Senegal all by himself. The 28-year-old alpine skier placed 55th in the Super-G in 2006 and hopes to do better this time around because of a scholarship from Olympic Solidarity that led to improved training opportunities. Seck attends the University of Salzburg in Austria where he can ski year-round. He doesn't expect to win any medals, but is striving  to achieve his personal best and to proudly represent Senegal.

Hubertus von Hohenlohe

500Hubertus_von_Hohenlohe

Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg is 51 years old, yet he qualified to represent Mexico as an alpine skier in Vancouver. Born in Mexico, he is a descendant of a royal family from an area that is now part of Germany. Von Hohenlohe grew up in Austria, where he had plenty of opportunity to ski. He now lives in Liechtenstein and holds dual Austrian and Mexican citizenship. The only Mexican athlete in Vancouver this year, von Hohenlohe also skied for Mexico in 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1994. He qualified in 2006, but the Mexican Olympic Committee declined to send any athletes to Turin. Besides skiing, von Hohenlohe is a photographer and records music under the name Andy Himalaya. See a bit of von Hohenlohe's life in this video.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Brett Deering/Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?
Brett Deering/Getty Images
Brett Deering/Getty Images

On Saturday night, one of three finalists will be named this year's Heisman Trophy winner. But before anyone brings home the hardware, let’s answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

© Bettmann/CORBIS

His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman (right) was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman’s Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer – he consistently received rotten reviews – and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere - in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

© Bettmann/CORBIS

Possibly, but Heisman didn’t have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists – Vinny Testaverde won that year – and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time." [Pictured Above: Auburn's Bo Jackson in 1985.]

What’s a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol’ Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida’s student government thought Spurrier’s generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he’d get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World’s Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman’s Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn’t show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3,000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren’t totally clear – some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion – the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1,620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Al Bello/Getty Images
arrow
#TBT
Thin Ice: The Bizarre Boxing Career of Tonya Harding
Al Bello/Getty Images
Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked Tonya Harding about the strangest business offer she had received after her skating career came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s. “I guess to skate topless,” she answered. In 1994, the two-time former Olympian became infamous for her ex-husband’s attempt to break the leg of rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although Harding denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan—which ended with Kerrigan suffering a bruised leg and Harding being banned from the U.S. Figure Skating organization, ending her competitive pursuits—she became a running punchline in the media for her attempts to exploit that notoriety. There was a sex tape (which her equally disgraced former husband, Jeff Gillooly, taped on their wedding night), offers to wrestle professionally, attempts to launch careers in both music and acting, and other means of paying bills.

Though she did not accept the offer to perform semi-nude, she did embark on a new career that many observers found just as lurid and sensational: For a two-year period, Tonya Harding was a professional boxer.

Tonya Harding rises from the canvas during a boxing match
Al Bello/Getty Images

Following the attack on Kerrigan and the subsequent police investigation, Harding pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution, received three years’ probation, and was levied a $160,000 fine. (Gillooly and his conspirators served time.) Ostracized from skating and with limited opportunities, Harding first tried to enter the music scene with her band, the Golden Blades.

When that didn’t work—they were booed off stage in Portland, Oregon, Harding’s hometown—she disappeared from the public eye, offering skating lessons in Oregon before resurfacing on a March 2002 Fox network broadcast titled Celebrity Boxing. Using heavily padded gloves and outsized headgear, performers like Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges pummeled one another on the undercard. In the main event, Harding used her physicality to batter and bruise Paula Jones, the woman who had accused then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

This was apparently the boost of confidence Harding needed. “I thought it was fun knocking somebody else on their butt,” she told the Tribune. Boxing, she said, could be an opportunity to embrace her self-appointed title as “America’s Bad Girl.”

Harding looked up a boxing promoter in Portland named Paul Brown and signed a four-year contract that would pay her between $10,000 and $15,000 per bout. The 5-foot, 1-inch Harding quickly grew in stature, moving to 123 pounds from her 105-pound skating weight. Following her win against Jones, Brown booked her a fight against up-and-coming boxer Samantha Browning in a four-round bout in Los Angeles in February 2003. The fight was said to be sloppy, with both women displaying their limited experience. Ultimately, Browning won a split decision.

Harding rebounded that spring, winning three fights in a row. Against Emily Gosa in Lincoln City, Oregon, she was roundly booed upon entering the arena. “The entire fight barely rose above the level of a drunken street brawl,” The Independent reported.

Of course, few spectators were there to see Harding put on a boxing clinic. They wanted to watch a vilified sports figure suffer some kind of public retribution for her role in the attack on Kerrigan. Following her brief winning streak, Harding was pummeled by Melissa Yanas in August 2003, losing barely a minute into the first round of a fight that took place in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club. In June 2004, she was stopped a second time against 22-year-old nursing student Amy Johnson; the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd cheered as Harding was left bloodied. Harding later told the press that Johnson, a native Canuck, had been given 26 seconds to get up after Harding knocked her down when the rules mandated only 10, which she saw as a display of national favoritism.

Harding had good reason to be upset. The Johnson fight was pivotal, as a win could have meant a fight on pay-per-view against Serbian-born boxer Jelena Mrdjenovich for a $600,000 purse. That bout never materialized.

Tonya Harding signs head shots on a table
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

There was more than just lack of experience working against Harding in her newfound career. Having been a longtime smoker, she suffered from asthma. The condition plagued her skating career; in boxing, where lapses in cardiovascular conditioning can get you hurt, it became a serious problem. Although Harding competed again—this time emerging victorious in a fight against pro wrestler Brittany Drake in an exhibition bout in Essington, Pennsylvania, in January 2005—it would end up being her last contest. Suffering from pneumonia and struggling with weight gain caused by corticosteroids prescribed for treatment, she halted her training.

In an epilogue fit for Harding’s frequently bizarre escapades, there was remote potential for one last bout. In 2011, dot-com entrepreneur Alki David offered Harding $100,000 to step back into the ring, with another $100,000 going to her proposed opponent. Had it happened, it probably would have gone down as one of the biggest sideshows of the past century. Unfortunately for Harding, Nancy Kerrigan never responded to the offer.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios