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  • Thirty-four Latin American and Caribbean athletes arrived in Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Olympic Games. Above, the Argentine team poses for a photo.

    Thirty-four Latin American and Caribbean athletes arrived in Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Olympic Games. Above, the Argentine team poses for a photo. | Photo: Twitter @FASATeam

Published 21 February 2018

The 38 Latin American athletes come from myriad backgrounds: some grew up in Europe or Canada and are returning to represent their homelands.

Thirty-eight Latin American and Caribbean athletes paraded down the elegant promenade set out for the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Feb. 9, but who are they?

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Argentina and Chile both sent seven of their best winter athletes, while one arrived from Ecuador and another from Puerto Ricotwo from Bolivia, three from Jamaica, four from both Mexico and Colombia, and finally nine from Brazil.

The delegation of Latin American athletes come from myriad backgrounds: some grew up in Europe or Canada and are returning to represent their homelands.

Alpine skier Micheal Poettoz, who was adopted by a French couple at the age of two and grew up sliding down the French Alps, is skiing for his native country for the second time, having first worn its colors in 2015.

"I could represent France, but I prefer to do it for Colombia. I am Colombian, I like my country's food, music and the charm of the people," he said.

Representing Mexico is Colorado-born Sarah Schleper, a past U.S. Olympian, competing on behalf of her husband’s homeland.

"It's my first games as a Mexican, my children are Mexican, my family is Mexican, I feel Mexican, which is why it's like my first games... Mexico gave me everything and that's why I do it," she said.

So far, the games have been brutal, with spills and injuries galore. Argentina's flag bearer and alpine skier Sebastiano Gastaldi suffered a terrible fall Sunday, which resulted in a torn knee ligament. The Argentina Ski Federation and Andinismo reported Gastaldi will not be competing in Thursday's slalom event but he hopes for a quick recovery.

His sister, Nicol, also an Olympic veteran, expressed her initial excitement to be competing alongside her younger brother. However, she also met misfortune after being disqualified from the first downhill women's slalom last Friday after skipping one of the track's checkpoints.

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Off-piste, Argentine luge runner Veronica Maria Ravenna, 20, has described her daily ritual prior to hopping on her sled and hurtling down the track at 70 mph.

"I have many superstitions: a song I sing, I check my equipment three times, and many more," she said, adding that she had the fullest confidence in her abilities and her sled, 'Jay.'

Meanwhile Colombia's speed skater, Pedro Causil, has wowed audiences once again with his agility, setting a record as the nation's first Olympic speed skater. This followed his epic debut in the 2008 summer competition, when he set the world record as the fastest roller speed skater in the 300m sprint in Gijon, Spain.

The athlete traded his wheels for blades in 2015, taking both the gold and silver in the Pan-American Games before launching his training for the Olympics.

Numerous other international athletes did the same, including Brazil's cross-country skier and first female biennial Olympian Jaqueline Mourao, who only took up skiing after a terrible snow storm in Canada stopped her from cycling.

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Mexico's German Madrazo was another late addition to the sport: he started skiing after reading an article on Peruvian cross-country skier Roberto Carcelen in a sports magazine.

The 43-year-old former triathlon competitor said: "Cross-country skiing is the toughest sport and I thought I was doing the toughest (competing in Ironman triathlons). It really fascinated me."

Carcelen pursued his new passion and formed an independent training group for the 2018 Olympics with other athletes, such as Chilean skier Yonathon Fernandez and Tongan skier Pita Taufatofua.

"At the beginning of December 2017 we realized that, to achieve success in an individual sport, you need to have a team," Madrazo said. "We trained together, we traveled together, we cooked for each other. It was an amazing experience."

 

 

Athletes dedicate years to training for the 15-day Olympic event, experiencing and overcoming serious injuries along the way. According to Brazilian bobsledder Rafael Souza Da Silva, learning to rest is also an important part of training.

The Olympic sprinter nearly gave up competing altogether after suffering numerous injuries which restricted him to the 100 and 200m dash. However, he stumbled upon the bobsleigh and adopted the spot due to his physical limitations. Da Silva went on to take the bronze in both the two- and four-man events in the 2016 World Push Championships in Romania, and he stands a good chance of taking a medal home this week.

Chilean skier Stephanie Joffroy also had her fair share of difficulties to overcome: she was diagnosed with Scheuermann's disease at the age of 14 after complaining of back pain. Pain is an unusual symptom for this ailment, which usually results in a distinct curvature of the spine, but Joffroy’s case prevented her from skiing for a full two years.

Outside of training, Joffroy is studying for a second master's degree at the University of Grenoble to coincide with her existing master's degree in engineering devices for training and rehabilitation.

Away from the adrenaline of snowy peaks and deafening crowds, Olympians live a normal life, some working eight- to ten-hour shifts on hospital floors or running from one business meeting to the next.

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World champion and 2013 gold medallist, Carrie Russell – a Jamaican bobsledder – sums up her favorite pastime as watching TV. She also spends her off hours working as a teacher's aid in a deaf school on the Caribbean island.

Chilean cross-country skier Claudia Salcedo represents her country in more ways than one, working as a second sergeant and patrol commander in the army.

Colombian speed skater Laura Isabel Gomez Quintero practices bio medicine, while Jamaica's only 2018 skeleton competitor, Anthony Watson, has worked as a model and musician.

Skateboarding and photography fill Argentine snowboarder Matias Schmitt's non-Olympic days. According to local media, Schmitt was only in Pyeongchang by chance two days before the event when he realized he had been nominated to compete.


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