Thursday, July 19, 2012
The Other Nations of the Olympics
With the London Games just around the corner, it's time for countries that normally don't enter the world's consciousness to join the forefront — nations like Jamaica in sprinting, Kenya in marathon, and Mongolia in boxing. But then there are the other countries that neither make an international splash diplomatically nor athletically, but are still represented in the Olympics.
Since the Olympics see fit to include as many nations as possible, they give out wild card entries to nations that do not have any athletes who qualified through competition. This makes the Olympic Opening Ceremonies a truly global event.
Here are a few countries who are not likely to medal, but still will be represented at the 2012 games.
Laos is one of the poorest nations in Asia and the world, and they have never won an Olympic medal. Nor is that likely to change this year. They will have two competitors, both wild cards, and both in the same event, one of the most anticipated in the Olympics: the 100m sprint.
Their male contestant is the bespectacled Kilakone Siphonexay, whose personal best is 10.73, nearly half a second worse than the slowest time to meritoriously qualify. The female competitor is Lealy Phoukhavont, who is just 16.
They have no proper facilities to train in, so they pump iron my lifting bars where the weights are paint cans filled with concrete. Nor do they have private facilities, so they run, stretch and lift in public parks with their fellow citizens.
Like several nations in the Olympics, a dearth of modern training equipment and venues is not the only problem. The most popular sports in Laos are not Olympic sports. The national sport of Laos is the martial art Muy Lao, and another popular sport is Jianzi, also known as shuttlecock kicking, which is exactly what it sounds like — badminton without the rackets or use of hands. Such sports were included in the 2009 Southeast Asian games held in Vientiane, Laos' capital, where Laos won 110 medals.
Another issue facing Olympic also-rans besides poverty — certainly Andorra is not impoverished — is pool size. Andorra is a tiny speck of a country nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. They speak Catalan, a language also widely spoken in Barcelona, the closest major city. And just about 80,000 people live there.
They are sending a team of six to the Olympics, including swimmer Hocine Haciane, who is actually not half bad — at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, he finished second in his round one heat in the 200m individual medley to move on to the next round. Such sporting acumen earned him flag-bearer status for Andorra in the 2008 Olympics.
What Andorra's athletes prove is that you're never too old to give up on your athletic dreams. Consider Antoni Bernardo, a marathoner who, at 46, is participating in his fourth Olympics. His best finish is 57th at the 2004 Games.
But that's nothing. Trapshooter Joan Tomas Roca is Andorra's representative in the trapshooting competition. His first Olympics? 1976. His age? 61.
So if you have Olympic dreams, learn to trapshoot and move to Andorra.
When one thinks of Guyana, one pretty much automatically thinks of one thing — the Jonestown massacre.
But unlike the other countries listed here, Guyana has actually won a medal in 1980, when boxer Michael Parris took home the bronze. He went on to have a decent boxing career of 17 wins, 10 losses, and 2 draws before hanging up his gloves in 1995.
They also have an outside chance at a medal in 2012 thanks to Aliann Pompey in the Women's 400m track event. Pompey won the gold at this event at the 2002 Commonwealth games, a competition featuring countries under the British Crown or with similar ties. She also won bronze in the same event a year later at the Pan American Games.
But those events were 10 and 9 years ago, respectively, surely at 34 her time has come and gone? Not necessarily — she posted her personal best in those categories in 2009, then again in 2010 indoors.
If you thought Andorra had a small population to pull from, Cook Islands has just 20,000 souls. It's a cluster of islands located between New Zealand and Hawaii, and despite their small population, they are sending a relatively robust 8 competitors to the Olympics in such sports as canoeing, sailing, and weightlifting.
The weightlifter is Luisa Peters, an 18-year-old who is probably stronger than you — her personal best is 156 kilograms, which is about 344 pounds. Who got her into weightlifting? Her grandmother, of course. The article also notes she is a ginger, which should help her in terms of mental toughness — having a soul can only be a burden when trying to lift a gold medal winning amount.
Central African Republic
Central African Republic has a lot going against it. It's one of the poorest nations on earth. It is violent like so many of its neighbors. Its capital, Bangui, was recently rated ahead of only Baghdad among the worst cities to live in according to a study by Mercer Human Resources. It has the most boring country name in Africa.
But they make up for it with the delightfully named Beranger Aymard Bosse, their representative in the Men's 100m sprint. Let's hope they put him in the same heat as Kilakone Siphonexay. If so, it will be the Official 100m Heat of Slant Pattern.
However, CAR is not all about running events like so many African nations ... they also qualified two athletes in the taekwondo. One of those is Patrick Boui, who took part in the African section of taekwondo qualifying. He needed only to make the finals to qualify for the Olympics, but he won the event (although his opponent in the finals withdrew).
The other taekwondo representative is Suelki Kang, who will participate in the Women's 49 kilogram and under event. When I first Googled her, I had to wade through a lot of Koreans named "Suel Ki Kang." Then I discovered she is Korean, but she goes by "Catherine." I don't mean to sound racist, but I think we can all agree there is far too much mixing of Koreans and Central African Republicans. And check it out ... you can "like" her on her Facebook page where she posts. Perhaps she'll respond, and you will get to say you spoke to an Olympian! Better yet, a Korean-Central African Republican Korean! Who goes by Catherine! It'll help if you speak French, though.