Quite a few nations rarely participate in the Winter Games because the lack of snow or ice makes those particular sports difficult and unpopular in warm weather countries. But athletes with dual (or even triple) citizenship and the means to travel for training sometimes end up representing a tropical country on the ski slopes or the ice.
None of these athletes will actually be traveling all alone to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as far as we know. When you see them in the parade, they will most likely be accompanied by coaches and officials from their nation. However, they are each the sole athlete participating in competition for their country.
1. Cayman Islands: Dow Travers
Dow Travers was the first ever winter Olympian from the Cayman Islands in 2010. 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. In Sochi, he will compete in the men’s slalom and the men’s giant slalom under the flag of the Cayman Islands.
2. Malta: Elise Pellegrin
Elise Pellegrin is a French-born 21-year-old professional Alpine skier. She has been skiing since she was three years old! Pellegrin will be the first Olympic athlete ever to represent the Mediterranean island of Malta at the Winter Games, having achieved her citizenship there only recently. She will compete in the women’s slalom and the women’s giant slalom.
3. Philippines: Michael Christian Martinez
Michael Christian Martinez is only 17 years old, yet he will have the entire nation of the Philippines behind him as he represents them in Sochi all by himself. No one else from the Philippines has qualified for the Winter Games since 1992. Martinez has been skating since he was eight and has been racking up international awards in men’s figure skating since he was twelve. Martinez trains in Manila and in California. He is the first ever figure skater to represent the Philippines in the Olympics.
4. Bermuda: Tucker Murphy
Cross-country skier Tucker Murphy represented Bermuda as that nation’s first Olympic skier in 2010, and will repeat as a solo Bermudan skiing cross country in Sochi. Murphy graduated from Dartmouth, where he was on the rowing team as well as the ski team, and went on to be a Rhodes scholar studying zoology. As in 2010, he will no doubt wear Bermuda shorts as the sole representative of the island nation.
5. British Virgin Islands: Peter Crook
The British Virgin Islands have not competed in the Winter Games since 1984 (and never before that). This year, Peter Crook will ski for the Islands in the men’s halfpipe, a freestyle skiing event. Crook was born in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, but moved to Wisconsin when he was a child. He now lives in Colorado. Crook and his father founded the BVI Skiing Association three years ago, in anticipation of the 2014 Winter Games. He said their biggest challenge was explaining what half pipe skiing was to the BVI Olympic Committee.
6. Luxembourg: Kari Peters
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is not a tropical country, but with a very small population, its Olympic Committee thought that no athlete would qualify for the games. Then cross country skier Kari Peters posted the best score of his career at his European Cup qualifying sprint in St Ulrich, Austria. The committee decided that he deserves a trip to Russia. Luxembourg sent no athletes to Vancouver in 2010, and hasn't won a medal in the Winter Games since 1992.
7. Hong Kong: Pan-To Barton Lui
There are no Olympic-sized ice rinks in Hong Kong, so Lui Pan-To Barton had to travel to Changchun and Harbin on the mainland to train with the Chinese National team, and then to Seoul, South Korea, to train by himself. Lui qualified for the Sochi Olympics in short track speed skating, the sole athlete from Hong Kong. Although Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, it is still considered a “special administrative district,” and will be represented at the Olympics by Lui alone.
8. Tonga: Bruno Banani
If you do a Google search for the name Bruno Banani, you will get the German underwear company of that name. But it’s also the name of the first Winter Olympian from Tonga. Born Fuahea Semi, the Tongan rugby player and luger went by Bruno Banani to court sponsorship from the company. It was part of a deal endorsed by the Tongan royal family to enable the athlete to afford training in Germany with the world’s best lugers. The company insinuated that the name was just a coincidence that led to the sponsorship, but that story unraveled quickly. It wasn’t “just” a hoax; Semi legally changed his name to Bruno Banani. The International Olympic Committee decided that even though using a sponsor’s name is in bad taste, Banani is the name on his passport, so he will be the lone athlete representing Tonga at Sochi in the luge event.
9. Kyrgyzstan: Dmitry Trelevski
Sochi will be the sixth Winter Games in which Kyrgyzstan has participated, and in five of those Olympics, only one athlete represented the nation. In Vancouver in 2010, Dmitry Trelevski and women’s cross country skier Olga Reshetkova made up the country’s biggest Olympic contingent ever. This time around, it will be Dmitry Trelevski by himself, competing in the men’s slalom, the men’s giant slalom, and the Super G events.
10. Mexico: Hubertus von Hohenlohe
As his birthday is next week, Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg will be 55 years old when he skis the men’s slalom in Sochi, the second-oldest winter Olympian ever. 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. He is the only athlete representing Mexico at the Winter Games.
With his pedigree, von Hohenlohe could have competed for Austria, Liechtenstein, Spain, Italy, or Mexico. He selected Mexico “where I could control my own moves.” He founded the Mexican Ski Federation, of which he is the sole member. Off the slopes, von Hohenlohe is a musician and photographer. Watch a video of one of his latest songs.
By the way, the oldest Olympian ever at the Winter Games was Swedish curler Carl August Kronlund, who won a medal in 1924 at age 58.
11. Nepal: Dachhiri Sherpa
Considering the elevation and available snow, it’s a wonder that Nepal doesn’t produce more winter Olympians. Dachhiri Sherpa will represent Nepal alone in Sochi in cross country skiing. The 43-year-old Sherpa has been competing in the sport since 2002 and holds the record for the Alpine ultramarathon Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Sochi will be Sherpa’s third Olympics -he was the sole representative of Nepal in 2006 and 2010 as well.
12. Pakistan: Muhammad Karim
Pakistan originally qualified three skiers for the 2014 Olympics. Then the plan was to send one female and one male to the Games. And now a dispute between the Pakistan Olympic Association and the Pakistan government threatens the nation’s participation entirely. As of today, only one athlete, teenager Muhammad Karim, is slated to compete at Sochi, in the men’s slalom and the men’s giant slalom.
13. Paraguay: Julia Marino
Paraguay has never participated in the Winter Games until this year. The sole athlete from the South American nation will be Julia Marino, who was born in Paraguay and then adopted by a family in Winchester, Massachusetts. She first visited Paraguay in 2013, and was treated as a celebrity.
Make no mistake, Marino's participation in the Winter Olympics is a big deal in Paraguay, which she visited for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Her tour included press conferences and a television interview on Paraguay's version of "Good Morning America." As the only representative of her country, naturally she will be the flag bearer during the opening ceremonies.
14. Venezuela: Antonio Jose Pardo Andretta
Venezuela has participated in the Winter Games in four past Olympics; in 2014 they will be represented by one athlete, Antonio Jose Pardo Andretta, competing in the men’s giant slalom.
15. Tajikistan: Andrei Drygin
Tajikistan is a mountainous country, but it has only one ski station with one ski lift. Nevertheless, Andrei Drygin will be skiing for Tajikistan in Sochi as their only athlete for the fourth time. Drygin skied in Salt Lake City, Turin, and Vancouver, and will compete in three events, the men’s downhill, the men’s giant slalom, and the Super G, in Sochi.
16. Timor-Leste: Yohan Goutt Goncalves
Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, achieved independence from Indonesia in 2002 and became the first new nation of the 21st century. The nation participated in the last three Summer Games, and 2014 will mark East Timor’s first entry in the Winter Games. The country will be represented by skier Yohan Goutt Goncalves in the men’s slalom. Goutt Goncalves was born in France to a French father and an East Timorese mother. The 19-year-old skier said,
“I wanted to go to the Olympics representing East Timor as it would be a double experience,” he says. “Of course there is the competition, but also the chance to play the role of diplomat. It’s a brand new country, only formed in 2002 and still developing. I particularly want to show that there is more to East Timor than war.”
17. Virgin Islands: Jasmine Campbell
Jasmine Campbell was born in St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and moved to Sun Valley, Idaho at the age of nine. She is a student at Whitman College (but is taking a year off to get ready for the Sochi Olympics) and lives in Hailey, Idaho. She comes by her Olympic dreams honestly: her father, John Campbell, skied at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France. Campbell will be the only athlete representing the Virgin Islands, competing in the women’s slalom and giant slalom events.
18. Zimbabwe: Luke Steyn
Zimbabwe has never participated in the Winter Games before. In Sochi, Luke Steyn will proudly carry the flag and compete in the men’s slalom and giant slalom. Steyn was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, and moved with his family to Switzerland at age two. He lived in several countries of Europe while growing up. He is a student at the University of Colorado, currently taking a year off to train for the Olympics.