Diaspora

Richardson Viano, Fayik Abdi bring Haiti, Saudi Arabia to Winter Olympics – The Washington Post

Every Olympics seem to have a handful of nations making their first appearances at the Games, and the 2022 Beijing Olympics are no different. Here’s a look at Haiti and Saudi Arabia, the two rather warm nations that are participating in the Winter Games for the first time.
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Richardson Viano, Alpine skiing
The Jamaican bobsledders were trailblazers in terms of Winter Olympians from the Caribbean, but Viano is set to become the first Alpine skier representing that tropical portion of the world (along with Jamaica’s Benjamin Alexander, who also will make his skiing debut in Beijing).
At the age of 3 in 2005, Viano was adopted from a Haitian orphanage by an Italian couple who live in Briançon, France, which sits in the French Alps and is home to a major ski resort. His adopted father is a ski instructor and soon had Viano on skis, with the hope that one day he would ski for France.
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But at 16, he received a call from the Haitian Ski Federation, which — despite the island’s decidedly non-Alpine location — was co-created in 2010 by Pierre Roy, who had competed in World Cup skiing events for Haiti and created the organization that year in hopes of restoring civic pride after a massive earthquake.
“I didn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke from a friend,” Viano said, per the official Olympics website. “At the end of the call, I did some research on the Internet and discovered that there was indeed a ski federation in Haiti. A few days later, I called him back and then we met him with my parents.”
In 2019, Viano received his Haitian passport and made his debut representing the country at an international competition. Last year, he finished 35th in the giant slalom at the world championships in Italy and soon had enough qualifying points for entrance into this year’s Winter Games.
“Thanks to this commitment, I was able to get closer to my country of origin,” Viano, 19, told Olympics.com. “I got back in touch with the orphanage where I came from and I am proud to show them my success. I really want to go back there to see my roots and especially to give dreams to young people through sport and its values.”
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Fayik Abdi, Alpine skiing
Abdi, 24, learned how to ski at an early age, not in Saudi Arabia but in Lebanon, which has a handful of ski resorts in the country’s mountainous north-central portion. Soon, he was traveling even farther afield in search of slopes, his country’s deserts providing nothing of the sort.
“As I got older I started traveling to Switzerland to a winter camp,” he said. “I loved the sport from a young age. I just didn’t have the accessibility to the sport living in Saudi Arabia until I moved to Utah in 2016, where skiing really picked up.”
Abdi, who was born in San Diego but spent most of his early years in Saudi Arabia, eventually graduated from the University of Utah after spending a whole lot of time on the slopes: He worked as a ski technician and told Arab News he majored in criminal justice “because I wanted to study something relatively easy so I could ski.”
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After graduating in December 2020, Abdi returned home hoping to somehow further the sport of sand skiing in Saudi Arabia, which also is building a planned tourist city in northwestern Tabuk province that will include a ski area. (Yes, there are parts of Saudi Arabia that receive snow.) He then was approached by members of Saudi Arabia’s winter sports federation, who offered him funding in hopes of becoming that country’s first Winter Olympian.
“They asked me if I wanted to go to the Olympics,” Abdi told Arab News. “I didn’t know if they were for real. I was like, ‘Well, the Olympics is in 11 months and I’ve never trained for anything like that.’ ”
The short time frame and the coronavirus pandemic made things challenging, but Abdi was able to compile enough points to qualify for Beijing.
“My goal is just like every race: Just to try and ski the best you can. A race is just skiing and I think that’s what a lot of racers forget sometimes; they try and do something different in a race to what they do in training,” he said. “I want to beat as many nations as I can. I’m going to be competitive.”
Abdi and Viano both will compete in the giant slalom in Beijing. Their first runs are Feb. 12 at 9:15 p.m. Eastern, with their second to follow the next day at 12:45 a.m.
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