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Tiny Pacific nation to make Winter Olympic debut

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Yohan Goutt Goncalves

For the first time in history, this flag will fly during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. Carried by Yohan Goutt Goncalves, the flag represents the overcoming of many obstacles, both for the country since its independence from Indonesia in 2002, and for Goncalves, a slalom skier from a country with no snow.

East Timor is a humid, tropical country located in the Pacific Islands. So in addition to the usual challenges of an athlete with Olympic ambitions, Goncalves had to overcome a few more, including no snow, no skiing in his country, and thus, no skiing federation to officially qualify him for participation in the Olympics. In fact, he had to create the federation himself.

This was completed with the help of his Timorese mother and her friends.

“My long dream is being slowly achieved,” he told the Associated Press.

His “long dream” was facilitated by his dual citizenship in France (with his father) and East Timor (with his mother), allowing him to take advantage of France’s slopes at a very young age. He grew up in France with his father and began competitive training when he was 12. His training continued in Australia and, most recently, in Europe, where he trains with other skiers whose countries don’t have the infrastructure or climate to support the sport.

According to his trainer, Aleksander Vitanov, in an interview with AFP News, the collaboration between these skiiers has worked out well.

“Straightaway it felt right,” said Vitanov. “He’s always smiling, and he works very hard.”

He isn’t only interested in the competition of the Olympics, though. In an interview with France 24, Goncalves said he has diplomatic objectives, too.

“I wanted to go to the Olympics representing East Timor as it would be a double experience,” he said. “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.”

And now, his hard work is paying off, as he goes to make his country very proud at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

His results linked here.

Photo credit: Facebook

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