Diaspora

Richardson Viano: The Haitian skier ready to make history at the Winter Olympics – Yahoo News

The mercury oozed over 30 degrees Celsius in Port-au-Prince this week, more than 8,000 miles from where 19-year-old Haitian skier Richardson Viano is preparing to make his unlikely Winter Olympics debut.
Viano hopes his appearance in the men’s giant slalom in Beijing will help change the perception of a country routinely regarded as the poorest in the western hemisphere, and provide inspiration for children back home.
When he launches out of the start-gate on February 13, Viano will not only become the first athlete from Haiti to compete at a Winter Olympics, but also the first Caribbean skier in the Games’ history.
Orphaned at an early age, Viano was adopted by a French-Italian couple who took him to live in the Alps and started an unlikely journey that will culminate in him making history in the Chinese capital.
Viano told the PA news agency: “It is a dream for me to be here and represent Haiti in a Winter Olympics for the first time. I hope this will show our country is about more than earthquakes and other disasters.”
Viano’s dream was realised with the help of the wholly unlikely Haitian Ski Federation, set up by Jean-Pierre Roy, a Haitian who lived in France and managed to represent Haiti at the World Ski Championships in 2011 at the age of 47, where he finished 78th.
Roy staged the first Haitian Ski Championships in Morzine, France the following year, and unearthed Viano, who had grown to love skiing to the extent that he had targeted a place in the French team before Roy called three years ago.
Viano thought that initial approach was a joke, until he looked him up on the internet. He accepted the offer and consequentially made his debut at last year’s World Championships, where he finished a creditable 35th.
Viano has already began giving back to the country of his birth.
“Thanks to this commitment, I was able to get closer to my country of origin,” he added.
It is a dream for me to be here and represent Haiti in a Winter Olympics for the first time. I hope this will show our country is about more than earthquakes and other disasters
Richardson Viano
“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.”
Haiti is not the only country making its Winter Olympics debut in Beijing. Saudi Arabia will also send a skier, Fayik Abdi, as part of an ambitious winter sports programme that shows little resemblance to the Haitian approach.
Abdi, a former Utah university student, was selected after responding to an open call from the Saudi Arabia Winter Sports Federation, which declared in an Instagram post that it was “seeking stars who have the athletic ability, are talented, fast and have a desire to push the boundaries to represent their country”.
The Saudis’ intentions are serious. They recently started work on what will be the world’s fourth biggest indoor snow centre, a 40,000 square metre indoor ski slope which is due to open in 2024, and which enabled the federation’s president, Ahmed Shaher Al-Tabbaa, to shrug off the obvious elephant in the room.
“We don’t have snow or ice,” Tabbaa shrugged to Arab News. “Therefore, I would call on the private sector to provide it for us, especially as we are a new young federation that is eager to engage with the private sector.”
Athletes from East Timor, Eritrea, Ghana, Madagascar and the US Virgin Islands have qualified to represent their countries at the Games, while British-based former DJ Benjamin Alexander will become Jamaica’s first competitor away from the bobsleigh track.
All are inspired not only by Jamaica’s ‘Cool Runnings’ escapades from Calgary in 1988, but also by the increasing successes of athletes from non-alpine nations, such as Britain’s Dave Ryding.
“I have great admiration for Dave Ryding for what he achieved in Kitzbuhel, because he comes from a nation with very little snow,” added Viano. “When we see his success we can take confidence that other countries can also win in winter sports.”
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