Ethiopia’s ‘Ice Slider’ prepares for 2nd Olympics
AP Sports Writer
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – When Robel Teklemariam is asked if he has a nickname back home in Ethiopia, the Olympic men’s cross-country skier – yes, you read that right – notes that there’s no word for “snow” in his native language.
So Teklemariam goes by “Beredoe Shartate,” which is loosely translated to mean “Ice Slider,” a name that might be as curious as the athlete’s presence at the Vancouver Games.
As Ethiopia’s one and only Winter Olympic team member, Teklemariam stood out in his bright green, yellow and red jacket while attending a welcoming ceremony at the athletes’ village on Thursday, a day before the games open.
“For me, I’m a team of one, but I’m representing 80 million people,” he said. “It gives me a lot of pride and honor. It’s the country that I love.”
This is the second consecutive Winter Games for Teklemariam, 35. He became his country’s first Winter Olympic athlete at Turin in 2006, when he finished 83rd in the 15km cross-country classical ski run.
Born in Ethiopia, a nation far better known for its endurance runners than skiers, Teklemariam learned about slopes in the early 1980s, when his family moved to New York after his mother got a job at the United Nations. Teklemariam was then placed in a boarding school in Lake Placid, N.Y., where he first encountered snow.
It was love at first flake.
“The kids built a jump outside on our hill after the first snowfall,” he recalled. “So before I even learned how to make a turn, I was going off straight, jumping, crashing. There was nothing like it. I fell in love with the sport right away.”
Teklemariam eventually tried several winter sports, including snowboarding, before concentrating on cross-country once he attended high school in Colorado. He proved good enough to earn a scholarship at the University of New Hampshire.
Though he trains in both Japan and Europe, Teklemariam now makes his permanent home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.
Before traveling to Vancouver, Teklemariam said he attracted some interest in Ethiopia, where he was featured in several magazines and newspapers.
He’s not the only athlete in Vancouver hailing from a place not normally associated with winter sports. Travers Dow is a skier from the Cayman Islands. Tucker Murphy is a cross-country skier from Bermuda, and Senegal is represented by skier Seck Leyti.
And, of course, there’s Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, a skier from Ghana, who is the West African nation’s first Winter Olympian. Nkrumah-Acheampong also goes by the nickname “The Snow Leopard,” because of his leopard-print racing suit.
Teklemariam said he’s also been nicknamed “The Snow Lion.” But he prefers “Ice Slider,” because it’s a description that best reflects what he does and who he is.
“Ethiopians try to keep things very, very simple. We don’t complicate things,” Teklemariam said. “In English, they have so many words for snow, sleet, hail, everything. In Ethiopia, there’s just one word for it, beredoe, which means anything frozen that comes down from the sky.”
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