Winter Olympics for all


The flag bearer and only member of the American Samoa Winter Olympics team won the fashion show.

Marching in the Parade of Nations in the opening ceremonies of the Beijing 2022 Games, he entered the Olympic stadium shirtless, chest gleaming from Vaseline or some such substance, wearing a stunning necklace, a skirt, sandals and a spectacular, decorated wide headband trailing what seemed to be red feathers.

The temperature was in the 20s, but Nathan Crumpton, ranked 26th in the world in skeleton, appeared impervious to the chill.

One must wonder if more than one percent of the 56,000 residents of American Samoa have ever seen snow up close.

However, more than ever, and a continuing trend since 1988, the Winter Olympics is for all. Nations represented may send the tiniest of contingents, and their athletes may originate in the most far-out of manners. But whether someone in government thinks it is good publicity or just good policy, the most unlikely places that may never see snow or ice, want in.

There are 91 nations in the Games, including Nigeria, the Virgin islands, Haiti, and Saudi Arabia. You probably can’t even buy a pair of mittens in those places.

Not to mention Jamaica, which again has a bobsled team, speaking of 1988 when the Jamaican bobsledders created a worldwide sensation by showing up in Calgary and subsequently starring in the wonderfully named movie “Cool Runnings.”

I was a witness to the Jamaican hype in Canada at those Games. But 34 years ago I also met and chatted with a biathlete representing Guam and cross-country skiers from Guatemala, gaining insight into this wave of the future.

The young man I called The Guy From Guam in print, who finished 71st, but not last in the 10-kilometer men’s biathlon, beat out a competitor from Puerto Rico. Yes, Puerto Rico, again on the roster of nations in 2022.

The Guy From Guam was really a guy from a Detroit suburb named Judd Bankert. Like so many others who dreamed of becoming an Olympian, but had no shot at being selected by their primary resident country, The Guy From Guam qualified under an International Olympic Committee rule allowing any country to enter one athlete per event. Bankert had lived in Guam for seven years for professional reasons when he dusted off his previously parked skis.

The Guatemala guys knew snow because their mother was Norwegian and they spent a year living in Norway picking up finer points of the sport.

None of these nations from elsewhere are winter sports powers on the World Cup circuit between Olympics. These athletes are basically ambassadors to the largest party currently going on in the world, glad for their invitations, happy to show off aspects of the countries known for things besides winter tourism.

Some South American countries, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, also with few-member teams, do attract visitors to climb their high mountains, which do feature winter weather, if not ski jumps or luge runs.

One of these years there will probably be a team from Antarctica, which assuredly has the necessary snowpack for training, if hampered by the fact it has no citizens and basically is territory claimed by the world at large.

You didn’t catch these non-winter nations in the Winter Games in the 1920s, when it all began, or even decades later. At some point they felt left out of the celebrations and gradually, over time, the Olympic movement spread its arms wider to welcome more nations.

As for the bare-chested Crumpton, 36, he is quite the guy. He was born in Kenya while his father was stationed there as a diplomat with the United States Foreign Service.

Crumpton grew up in Africa and Australia before attending high school in Virginia and college at Princeton, where he was a triple jumper on the track team. Last year, he represented American Samoa in the 100-meter dash at the Summer Games in Tokyo.

His mother is of Chinese and Polynesian descent. The Polynesian connection is the key to his ability to represent American Samoa.

No posts to display