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18 Athletes Going to Sochi Alone

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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


Photograph from Facebook.

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


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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


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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


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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


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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


Photograph by Steffen Rumke.

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


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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


Photograph by Elena Tartaglione.

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


Photograph from Facebook.

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.

Now a junior at the University of Colorado, Marino will be representing Paraguay by herself when she competes in the new Olympic sport of slopestyle skiing.

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


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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


Photograph from Facebook.

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


Photograph from Virgin Islands Olympic Committee.

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.

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The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family
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In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

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8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.

1. KRAMPUS

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.

2. JÓLAKÖTTURINN

Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.

3. FRAU PERCHTA


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.

4. BELSNICKEL

A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.

5. HANS TRAPP

Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

6. PÈRE FOUETTARD

The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.

7. THE YULE LADS

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 

8. GRÝLA

All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters

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