'Feel the Rhythm! Feel the Rhyme!' Warm-Weather Athletes Heating up Sochi

PHOTO: Jamaican four-man bobsleigh pilot Dudley Stokes jumps in as his three teammates push off at the start of the second run of the Olympic four-man bobsleigh event Feb. 27, 1988, in Calgary.

As the 2014 Winter Olympics begin, more than 100 countries, including those with the hottest year-round climates, are competing to bring back medals and a share of glory.

Of these countries, Tonga tops the list as the hottest country confirmed to participate, according to stats from AccuWeather. This archipelago lies in the southwest Pacific between Fiji and Nieu, just south of the equator. It maintains a tropical climate with temperatures ranging from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit most of the year and a good dollop of humidity to boot.

Tonga is sending 26-year-old Bruno Banani, who will compete in the men’s singles luge at Sochi. He will be the first athlete to represent Tonga for a winter Olympics. His incentive to join the sport derived from Princess Salote Mafile’o Pilolevu Tuita, the daughter of the House of Tupou, Tonga’s royal family. It was reportedly Princess Tuita’s personal ambition to see a Tongan citizen compete in the Winter Olympics.

PHOTO: Doug E. Doug, Malik Yoba, Rawle D. Lewis, John Candy and Leon are shown in a scene from Cool Runnings.
Fox/AP Photo
PHOTO: Doug E. Doug, Malik Yoba, Rawle D. Lewis, John Candy and Leon are shown in a scene from "Cool Runnings."

Just last year, Banani qualified for the 2014 Winter Olympics after finishing 28th out of 42 starters in a World Cup meet in Park City, Utah. He was unable to qualify for the 2010 Winter Games due to a crash that resulted in a concussion.

The British Virgin Islands, a premier sailing destination, also has a year-round warm climate, with about seven to nine hours of sunshine each day. The country will be sending freestyle skier Peter Crook. Together with his father, he created the British Virgin Islands Ski Association in 2010. This is what enabled him to contend for the Winter Olympics.

“I’d say that the biggest challenge we faced was initially putting the concept before the British Virgin Islands Olympic Committee," he said in an interview with FreeSkier. "We had the task of explaining to them exactly what half-pipe skiing was. There was definitely some confusion as many had never been exposed to the sport and there certainly isn’t any snow in the BVI!”

Crook is currently ranked No. 27 in the world by the Association of Freeski Professionals and took 10th place at the World Cup held in Cardrona, New Zealand, where athletes from up to 30 different nations competed.

Then there's Jamaica, with temperatures routinely in the 80s, plenty of humidity, and a total of three months of rain.

Jamaica was first represented in the Winter Olympics in 1988 in Calgary when a team of track sprinters competed in the men’s four-man bobsleigh competition. This, simultaneously, inspired the Disney film “Cool Runnings.” This year, Marvin Dixon and Winston Watts will compete in the two-man bobsleigh competition against 30 other teams.

Watts, with 21 years of experience, recruited Dixon, who has been competing for seven years, in hopes of putting together a four-man sled team, but due to financial obstacles, shifted his focus to a two-man sled with himself as the driver and Dixon as the pusher.

To qualify for Sochi, the driver must be ranked in the top 50 by the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation. However, only the top 30 will be able to attend the Olympics. Watts ranked No. 30 out of 30 for the two-man event.

The Philippines will also be competing at Sochi. Located near the equator, the islands experience a tropical monsoon and climate featuring 80-degree weather, oppressive humidity and frequent rainfall.

There are only two ice skating rinks in the entire country, both located in malls. In fact, the major mall operator in the Philippines began sponsoring teams in 2013 to compete in tournaments around the world.

Michael Christian Martinez, 17, is looking to take home his first medal this year after nine years of training. His most recent competitions span four continents -- Japan, Taiwan, Austria and Italy –- all with top rankings. According to the International Skating Union, he is the first Filipino to perform a triple axel.

Heading into the Olympics, he must overcome several injuries that he believes are due to the poor quality of ice of the rinks he trains on in the Philippines. This includes two torn ankle ligaments and a knee injury from two years ago.

Hong Kong is also situated just within the tropics. Last year was one of the country’s warmest with an average temperature of 70 degrees. Typically, the country’s spring brings warmth and humidity, the summer heat and rain, autumn sunny days and cool temperature, and the winter dry air.

Having been a skater since age seven, Pan To Barton first took up rollerskating before moving on to short-track speed skating at age 10.

He remembers the moment when he qualified for this year’s Winter Olympics. “I couldn’t sleep that night. I was so excited," he told the South China Morning Post. "I would like to thank my family -- my parents and grandparents gave me their full support when I suspended my studies to chase my dream.”

Most of his time is spent training at the Korea National Sports University in Seoul, Korea. His final preparations include 90 minutes in the morning and three to four hours off the ice in the afternoon.

He’s made it to the finals in at least 15 world championship events since 2010 and will be the first male athlete to represent Hong Kong in a winter Olympic games this February.

Australia, a country where more than half of the land is covered by desert, is another one of the warmer countries in the Olympic Games. Wide swaths of Australia have a low and unreliable amount of rainfall each year, resembling that of the Saraha and Kalahari deserts in Africa.

Nevertheless, the country will be sending a record 60 athletes to Russia, eclipsing the previous winter record of 40 athletes in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. Additionally, the more women, 31, than men, 29, will be representing their country in events ranging from alpine skiing, to bobsleigh, to snowboard, speed skating and more.

Lydia Lassila, Olympic Aerials Champion, will be attending the Olympics for the fourth time alongside two other Olympic medalists, Torah Bright and Dale Begg-Smith.

The Australian Team Chef de Mission has described this team as the “best credentialed” group of Australian winter athletes ever assembled.

Finally, Israel has put together a team for Sochi. More than half this Mediterranean country is comprised of the Negev Desert. It experiences abundant sunshine, and long, hot and dry summers. Occasionally, hot dry winds will drive in from the Arabian Desert.

The Israeli delegation to Sochi will have five athletes -- four skaters and one Alpine skier, Virgile Vandeput.

Elite Sports Unit head Gili Lustig believes ice skating has a future in Israel. "We must develop skating here," she told Haaretz. "Athletes can use the new centers, and the Russian community loves the sport.”

“Many children love the sport so this is a huge opportunity," she added.

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