Olympic athletes can bear unusual flags
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Warren Cummings Smith III wanted to make Estonians proud with his performance in Alpine skiing. Wearing a racing suit in the blue, black, and white colors of the country he represents at the Sochi Olympics, Smith hoped he did just that in the men’s giant slalom with his 45th-place finish, 12.13 seconds behind gold medalist Ted Ligety of the US. Smith will be back on the Rosa Khutor slopes Saturday for the men’s slalom.
If you’re thinking that “Warren Cummings Smith III” doesn’t exactly sound like an Estonian name, you’re right. Smith actually lives in Dedham, Mass., when not attending Dartmouth College. Thanks to an Estonian grandmother, Smith obtained Estonian citizenship, though he has visited the country only once. And after skiing for the US when he was younger, Smith now competes for Estonia.
“It’s been a dream come true for me,” said Smith, who holds dual citizenship. “I’m totally psyched about the opportunity to come to the Olympics this year. I’m super-excited about being able to put my skills on display against the world’s best and see what the benchmark is and where I want to be in four years’ time.
“I’m trying to soak it in as much as possible and stay focused at the same time.”
Smith is not the only Boston-area athlete representing a “foreign” country at the Games. In the freeskiing slopestyle event, Winchester’s Julie Marino competed as Paraguay’s first Winter Olympian. She was born in the small Paraguayan village of Bahia Negra, adopted by an American couple, and raised in suburban Boston.
Smith and others who find Olympic opportunities with dual citizenship see the Sochi Games as a way to gain valuable competitive experience. Smith comes from a serious skiing background, having attended Burke Mountain Academy in East Burke, Vt., with fellow Olympians such as Mikaela Shiffrin, the favorite in Friday’s women’s slalom.
There are also many other athletes from non-Alpine nations who see a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream.
When it comes to giant slalom in particular, the start lists are full of unusual entries. Part of the reason is that The FIS, skiing’s governing body, allows non-Alpine nations to enter a single skier in the giant slalom and/or slalom, though they still have to reach certain race-point qualification standards.
Since giant slalom doesn’t demand the flat-out speed needed for downhill or the technical proficiency necessary to complete a slalom run, it is a popular draw for less-experienced athletes. But the men’s slalom also will attract a good number of athletes from countries that don’t make you think “winter sports mecca.”
There will be skiers such as Dow Travers from the Cayman Islands, Virgile Vandeput of Israel, Hossein Saveh Shemshaki of Iran, and Adam Lamhamedi of Morocco. And it will be hard to miss Mexican skier Hubertus von Hohenlohe in his Mariachi-inspired ski suit. Descended from German royalty, von Hohenloe is making Sochi his sixth Olympics.
But don’t be deceived — many skiers from non-Alpine nations were actually raised in countries where skiing is possible and take their participation in the Winter Games seriously.
“I want to get the qualification standard a bit harder,” said Moroccan flag-bearer Lamhamedi, who grew up in Quebec City, Canada, and holds dual US citizenship. “For me, actually I’m good. All the people think, ‘Oh, you go to the Olympics, it’s because you’re going for Morocco, it’s easy.’ We [warm-climate countries] have good racers.”
Lamhamedi, who finished 47th in the giant slalom Wednesday, won the super-G at the 2012 Youth Olympic Winter Games, and the King of Morocco presented him with a medal. He spends most summers in Morocco and hopes more people there take an interest in skiing.
In four years, Smith hopes to test himself against Olympic competition again in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Between now and then, he will compete for the Dartmouth ski team and internationally for Estonia.
At the 2013 World Championships, Smith placed 36th in the giant slalom. In December 2013, he became the first Estonian to win an FIS giant slalom competition, taking first at an event in Tarnaby, Sweden.
“The Olympic experience has been great so far,” said Smith, who was joined in Sochi by his parents, stepfather, brother, and sister. “The giant slalom was super-challenging.
“The course is longer than what I’m used to racing at Dartmouth College. So I almost ran out of gas a little bit on the first run. But I was more prepared for it the second run. I’m happy to get a solid finish and move up
“I have to qualify first [for 2018], obviously. But I’m going to get right back to it after the Olympics and start plugging away for the next go-round.”