Diaspora

Alpine skiing: Haitian on snow is more than Cool Runnings sequel – Reuters

Haiti's Alpine coach Thierry Montillet arrives at Capital Airport in Beijing, China prior to Beijing 2022 Olympics, Jaunary 31, 2022 REUTER/Julien Pretot
BEIJING, Jan 31 (Reuters) – When the Alpine skiing events start at the Beijing Olympics, Haiti will be presenting their own version of "Cool Runnings" – the film that shot the Jamaican bobsleigh team to fame in the 1990s – but with fresh ambition.
Haiti's Richardson Vion finished 35th in the men's giant slalom at the world championships and further decent results are about to make him the first Caribbean Olympic skier, a fairytale conclusion to a story that started in 2010.
Shortly after an earthquake flattened much of Port-au-Prince and killed more than 200,000 people, Frenchman Thierry Montillet, a cousin of 2002 downhill Olympic champion Carole Montillet, decided to create the Haitian skiing federation.
"I had a friend in a ski club, (Haiti's) Jean-Pierre Roy. When the earthquake happened in 2010 we said to ourselves 'what can we do besides giving money' and we started the project of doing something in the field of positive communication for Haiti," Montillet told Reuters after landing at Beijing's Capital airport on Monday.
"Haiti stories were about the earthquake, diseases, corruption. We thought, what if we created the Haitian ski federation. And we took the first Haitian, Jean-Pierre Roy, to the world championships in Garmisch Partenkirchen in 2011."
Roy finished last but the story had begun.
"We started from scratch and we got advice from (Senegal's) Lamine Gueye (who took part in the 1984 Games). Even if nothing happened like he said it would, it helped us a lot," Montillet said.
What started as a public relations idea turned into a sporting project through Vion and his team mate Mackenson Florindo.
"Jean-Pierre was an anecdote, but Richardson, who trains in the French Alps, is more than that. People still think Haiti, there's no skiing. Everybody thinks Cool Runnings, but he finished 35th (out of 50) in the world championships, " said Montillet.
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The comparison with the Jamaican story might have helped the Haitian skiing team at first but it now does them a disservice.
"It doesn't do us any favour anymore, especially when we look for sponsors," Montillet said.
"They have a hard time understanding that we are more than that. We're a bit prisoners of that old story."
While the 19-year-old Richardson will be hoping to at least match his world championships' achievement, there is more at stake for the boy who was adopted by an Italian couple living in the French Alps when he was four.
His team mate Florindo was also adopted.
"They have chaotic stories. They ended up in families with a different skin colour, who are from the mountains and on top of that, in the mountains people are a bit chauvinistic," said Montillet.
"But with the Haitian team they have found their place. That link (with their home country) that got broken when they got adopted is being woven again.
"It's a great source of pride for them."
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