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Foreign Olympians Train In Northwest Ahead Of Olympics

Next month, Vancouver and Whistler, Canada will host athletes from more than eighty nations at the 2010 Winter Olympics.  Some of the countries sending athletes might surprise you. 

The Jamaican bobsledders will be back.  So will skiers from countries that rarely, if ever, see snow — like Kenya.  Or have no winter sports tradition — like Peru. 

It so happens that Kenya and Peru's Winter Olympians are training here in the Northwest ahead of the Games.  Tom Banse has their stories.

Oregon-based sportswear giant Nike can take some credit for launching the career of Kenya's first and so far only Winter Olympian.  Nike has long sponsored world class distance runners from Kenya.  In the mid-1990's, runner Philip Boit responded to an offer to try something a little different.

 Philip Bolt
Kenya's first and only Winter Olympian, Philip Boit, at the Methow Valley SuperTour race.

Philip Boit: "They wanted to see if these Kenyans who are doing very well in running long distance, how about if we change them a little bit to try this skiing (since) they have that good endurance."

At the age of 24, the Kenyan got a ticket to Finland to learn to cross country ski.

Philip Boit: "They talked about skiing,I didn't know skiing.  I have no idea about winter. I didn't know about snow."

But two years later, he's at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.  Boit finished dead last.  Nike dropped its African ski team experiment the next year.  But Philip Boit wasn't ready to settle down on the family farm, and still isn't.

Sound: Race announcer at Methow Valley SuperTour "…All the way from Africa, give a hand, from Kenya, PHILIP BOIT!…"

Earlier this month, Boit arrived in Washington State to try to qualify for his fourth and he says final Olympics. 

Philip Boit: "I'm financing myself.  My family are also helping.  There are so many people trying to help."

Inspired Northwest fans have come forward to donate coaching time, a gym membership, new skis and transportation.  Methow Valley resident Danica Kaufman is one of many in north central Washington to open her home to Boit so he has a place to stay.

Danica Kaufman: "Well, the Methow doesn't have a lot of diversity.  Philip is just such a warm personality and such a neat story.  He told me just this morning that he had to sell a couple of cows from his farm in order to fund his last part of his trip here. It's just unlike the world we live in."

Kaufman notes Olympic qualifying standards have gotten tougher.  She believes ironically that's partly the result of the slow finishes of long shot Olympians like Boit. 

Another person hoping Boit makes it to Vancouver is a potential competitor from South America.

Seattle resident Roberto Carcelen, competing for Peru, crosses the finish line at the 2009 World Championships in the Czech Republic.

Roberto Carcelen: "He's the sweetest guy.  He's really nice."

Roberto Carcelen grew up in Peru, but lives and trains in Seattle now.  Love brought him to the Northwest about eight years ago.  He married a woman he met on the Internet.  She works at Microsoft. 

Carcelen tells the story of how his wife introduced him to cross country skiing in the Washington Cascades.

Roberto Carcelen: "And I was like, 'Where are the downhill runs? Where's the chairlift?'  She explained to me that this is a different kind of skiing."

Peru has tall mountains, but Carcelen says skinny skis are unknown there.

Roberto Carcelen: "So we tried the first day.  I liked it so much, the next day I went to REI and bought the whole equipment."

In 2006, he watched on TV as athletes from Kenya, Portugal, and Brazil skied in the Olympics in Torino.  He thought, I could do that and he started training to become Peru's first Winter Olympian.

Sound: Race starter "…3-2-1.  Go!"

Roberto Carcelen: "I am bringing up Winter Olympics to a country that has no tradition on the snow sports.  Also, it's a way to prove that any other master level athlete can achieve higher standards, even having a full time job. You can find the time."

Carcelen has no illusions about finishing near the top at the Olympics.  He'll be happy if he's one third from the back.

Cross country skiers from developing nations compete in the 15 kilometer freestyle race.  It's scheduled for Monday, February 15th at Whistler Olympic Park.


2010 Vancouver Olympics

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