5 Winter Olympic Heroes from the Unlikeliest Countries

With the Winter Olympics in South Korea fast-approaching, we at bagSOLO have decided to take a look at some of the more unlikely entrants down the years.

Lamine Guèye – Senegal, downhill skiing 

Senegal isn’t exactly the coldest place on earth, bordering the Sahara Desert, with average winter temperature a toasty 23 celsius. However, it’s home to the first Black African to ever compete at the Winter Olympics, with Lamine Guèye making his debut at the 1984 games in Sarajevo. He didn’t bag a medal, but was back for both the 1992 and 1994 competitions after a few years out.

Nowadays, he’s the president of the Senegalese Ski Federation, and a prominent critic of the current qualification rules for the Winter Olympics – in his words “until 1992 every country could send four athletes per event to alpine skiing, and we were able to believe we were equal. Those were the last true Winter Olympic Games”.

Bruno Banani – Tonga, luge

A slightly less authentic story is that of luger Bruno Banani, from the Pacific islands of Tonga. Much better-known for Rugby, Tonga had unsurprisingly not produced a Winter Olympian before Banani, but he managed to finish 32nd out of 39 in the men’s singles at Sochi 2014.

However, it later transpired that Banani was in fact called Fuahea Semi, and his false name and training was being funded by a German marketing company. Bruno Banani is the name of a German underwear firm, and unsurprisingly the Tongan agreed an endorsement deal with them, and has even legally changed his name to Banani. The whole affair is a little questionable, and International Olympic Committee vice-president Thomas Bach has described it as “in bad taste and a perverse marketing idea”.

Isaac Menyoli – Cameroon, cross-country skiing

Issac Menyoli’s Winter Olympic entry, at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, had far greater ethical reasoning. An architect from Cameroon, Menyoli’s stated aim wasn’t to win a medal, but to attract global media attention to the prevalence of AIDS in his country, and specifically in his home town of Buea.

Sadly, the people of his hometown were ignorant of the threat posed by AIDS, and he told interviewers “I want to ski for a reason. I want to tell people that they really have to watch out, that AIDS is serious”. Menyoli may have come last in the men’s 15km race, but his goal was achieved simply by taking part.

Steven Bradbury – Australia, speed-skating

Unlike the previous nations, Australia do have (a bit) of pedigree at the Winter Games, but before Salt Lake City in 2002 they’d never won gold. This changed, and in dramatic circumstances, when a last corner pile-up allowed Bradbury to go from last to first right at the death. It was a remarkable outcome, though the Australian claimed it was partly planned “I figured I might as well stay out the way in last place, and hope some people get tangled up”.

A shocked Bradbury became the first person from any southern hemisphere country to win a Winter Olympic event, and has quite the legacy back in Oz – the term ‘doing a Bradbury’ is well-used when something unexpected is pulled off, stamps with his face adorning them were issued and he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia.

Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong – Ghana, skiing

Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong , the first person form Ghana to compete at the Winter Olympics, has a great nickname – ‘The Snow Leopard’. Finishing 53rd out of 54 finishers in the slalom at the 2010 games in Vancouver, Nkrumah-Acheampong’s simply fantastic snow leopard-print ski suit gained worldwide notoriety.

After the games, he set up the Ghanaian Winter Olympic Association in his home country, and was behind the creation of Ghana’s first artificial ski slope. Nkrumah-Acheampong is also heavily involved with various charities, and fittingly donates any spare sponsorship money to the Snow Leopard Trust, aimed at keeping his feline inspirations from extinction.