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Africa is not known for snowy peaks and skiing holidays. But several of its athletes still compete at every Winter Olympics. This year there are six who will represent the continent, with one who nearly made it to Sochi.
Mehdi Selim Khelifi
A competitive skier since 2009, Mehdi Selim Khelifi is Algeria’s sole entry in the Winter Olympics. He previously competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics, taking part in the cross-country event. Though he has dual citizenship between Algeria and France, Khelifi competes under Algeria’s colours.
Morocco and Africa’s big medal hopeful at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games is Adam Lamhamedi. An alpine skier, he made history in 2012 by becoming the first African to win a medal at a Winter Olympics event – namely a gold medal at the Winter Youth Olympic Games. Now with enough credit under his belt, Lamhamedi has qualified to represent his country in alpine skiing at Sochi.
Morocco has competed in the Winter Olympics five times, but at age 17 Kenza Tazi will be its youngest entrant yet. The schoolgirl was first spotted on the slopes of the French Alps, where she studies, and has since become a sensation in skiing circles. Tazi is set to take part in the slalom and giant slalom.
Sadly this athlete from South Africa will not be going to Sochi, but he lists here anyway because that was not his fault. Instead the South African Olympic Committee decided not to send him, saying the 18-year-old is not ranked high enough. Yet Speelman managed to qualify despite getting circumcised in a traditional Xhosa initiation ceremony and later grieving after losing a close friend to a similar ceremony.
Mathilde Petitjean Amivi
With dual citizenship, Mathilde Petitjean Amivi has been building most of her career in France. And she has been very successful, prompting Togo’s skiing federation to contact her and offer a spot on its Olympic team. The 19-year-old accepted: she admits she is not good enough yet to qualify for the French team, but going as a Togolese athlete will give her valuable experience. Amivi is competing in cross country skiing.
Alessia Afi Dipol
Alessia Afi Dipol is actually Italian-born and has been competing abroad – most recently for India. But she is also a naturalised Togolese citizen and decided to join the Togolese team in order to get a space at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Aged 18, Dipol will be taking part in the slalom and giant slalom events.
Zimbabwe has never sent an athlete to a Winter Olympics before. It hasn’t even seen any snow in 50 years – and that was a freak occurrence. But 20-year-old Luke Steyn will be representing his country at Sochi. Having learned to ski in the U.S. and Europe, he drove all over the latter to get the necessary credit and qualified for the big slalom event.