Zimbabwe Gets First Winter Olympian

AP Photo

The 2014 Winter Olympics are upon us at last, and over the next few weeks we’ll be inundated with inspiring and heart warming stories about athletes who have overcome incredible odds just to make it to Sochi. But it’ll be tough to top the story of Luke Steyn, who is about to become the first winter olympian from a country that almost never sees snow.

20-year old Luke comes from Zimbabwe, which is located in southern Africa, a region of the world that is known to be quite warm. But the young man will compete in the downhill skiing events of  slalom and giant slalom, which is quite extraordinary considering it hasn’t snowed in his home country in more than 50 years. It seems Luke took up skiing as a boy while his family would travel to Europe on holiday. As he got older, he even traveled to the U.S. to attend the University of Colorado, where he got the chance to hone those skills further.

Of course, just knowing how to ski doesn’t qualify you to compete at the Olympics. In order to earn a place at the games, Steyn first had to earn enough points to be allowed to ski. That required Zimbabwe to form a snow sports group to get official representation with the Olympic Committee, while he attempted to collect enough points on the European skiing circuit. Luke says he drove 1800 miles in 20 days, criss-crossing  France, Italy and Switzerland in a bid to collect those points by the January 19 cut-off date. Ultimately his efforts proved successful and he will be at the opening ceremonies tonight representing his home country.

According to meteorological records, snow has been recorded in Zimbabwe exactly one time. An unusual storm brought a light dusting to the African nation back in 1960, which makes Luke’s unlikely story even more amazing. It would seem that snow flakes in Zimbabwe are about as rare as winter olympians.

When the opening ceremonies get underway tonight, Steyn will walk alone into the stadium, carrying his nation’s flag with him. But he won’t be the only African athlete who will be competing in Russia. Both Morocco and Togo are also sending competitors to the Sochi games. Those athletes will carry the pride of their nations along with them as well. According to Sports Illustrated, the Cayman Island, Virgin Islands and the tropical nation of Tonga will also have winter athletes at the games, which is just as unusual as Steyn’s participation.

Let the games begin!