7 unlikely Winter Olympians competing in Sochi

7 unlikely Winter Olympians competing in Sochi

7 unlikely Winter Olympians competing in Sochi

Updated 7 February 2014, 17:54 AEST

You would think that snow and ice are pre-requisites for Winter Olympians but not where these competitors come from.

Many people would know of the 1993 hit movie Cool Runnings, following the improbable journey of a Jamaican bobsled team competing at the Winter Olympics.

And it seems in Sochi 2014, there is more than one story with the potential to become a Hollywood blockbuster.

From opposite climates and late career changes, to perverse global marketing campaigns, here are 7 unlikely competitors at this year's Winter Olympics.

1. Bruno Banani, Tonga
Bruno Banani, Tonga
Image: ABC News Licensed
Fuahea Semi grew up loving rugby union, but since being selected by Tonga as its first Winter Olympics competitor he's not only taken up the thrill-seeking sport of luge, but a new name. Now known as Bruno Banani (to match a Germany clothing company) he has proved he's no marketing gimmick, qualifying for Sochi 2014.  
He is Tonga's first Winter Olympian.
2. Yohan Goutt Goncalves, Timor Leste (East Timor)
Yohan Goutt Goncalves, East Timor
Image: Supplied Facebook
Timor Leste's temperature rarely drops below 20 degrees Celsius and it has never seen snow. It's not a place particularly conducive to Winter Olympians. But this year the East Timorese will cheer on their first - Yohan Goutt Goncalves - in the Men’s Slalom.

Born in France to a French father and East Timorese mother, Yohan was always determined to represent the small island once he qualified to compete on the world stage.
3. Lucy Chaffer, Australia
Lucy Chaffer, Australia
Image: George Frey, Getty Images North America, AFP
It's not easy to find willing participants for the sport of skeleton, where one flies head-first through a cylindrical course travelling at speeds over 100 kilometres per hour.

But the Australian Institute of Sport not only identified Lucy Chaffer, as potential talent, but at 23, managed to convince her to dedicate to the sport for the next 7 years.

After failing to qualify in 2010, Lucy has made it to Sochi with the ambition of taking home a medal - not bad considering less than a decade ago she knew next to nothing of the sport.
4. The Nation-less Athletes
The nation-less athletes
Image: AFP
Shiva Keshavan (luge, above) along with Himanshu Thakur (giant slalom) and Nadeem Iqbal (cross-country skiing) will compete as individuals in this year’s Winter Olympics.

The Indian based athletes have been forced to go it alone, after the International Olympic Committee suspended the India Olympic Association for violations of its charter in 2012.  

The athletes will have to compete under the Olympic flag rather than the Indian one, wear neutral outfits and, should they claim gold, listen to the official Olympic anthem.
5. Vanessa Mae Vanakorn, Thailand
Vanessa Vanakorn, Thailand
Image: Ethan Miller, Getty Images North America, AFP
Since finding fame and fortune as a pop violinist, Thailand’s Vanessa Mae Vanakorn is determined to express her talent in a polar opposite discipline – downhill skiing.

Vanessa Mae was a child prodigy with the violin and throughout her career has appeared with orchestras and on talk shows around the world.  She has sold 8 million albums.

Although Vanessa Mae has been skiing since she was 4 years old, it's only recently, at age 35, that she has pursued her long held ambition to compete at the Olympics.  

Thailand will send two athletes to Sochi in just the nation’s third appearance at the Winter Olympics.
6. Pan To Barton Lui, Hong Kong
Pan To Barton Lui, Hong Kong
Image: Philippe Lopez, AFP
Hong Kong doesn't have an international standard ice rink, but in Sochi 2014 they will have an Olympic competitor, in the 1500 metre short track speed skating event.

Pan To Barton Lui learnt to skate at crowded tourist rinks and as he walks into Fisht Olympic Stadium, he will be the only Hong Kong representative and the first male to ever compete at the Winter Olympics for his country.

With short track skating’s crash and tumbles, it’s a sport known for producing surprises and unlikely winners.
7. Michael Christian Martinez, Philippines
Michael Christian Martinez, Philippines
Image: Toshifumi Kitamura, AFP
When most teenagers head to the shopping mall, landing a ‘reverse triple axel’ is usually the last thing on their mind.

For 17-year-old Filipino Michael Christian Martinez, honing skills in the shopping mall ice rink has led him to join the world’s elite figure skaters in competition.

Michael is not only overcoming a lack of ice in his homeland, but also a serious knee injury sustained in 2012.

Watch for Michael's passion and flair on the ice, as the youngster is determined to make an impact in his country's first Winter Olympics appearance in 22 years.

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