Slaw Says: Olympics produce year's new heroes

As always, the 2002 Winter Olympic Games produced their share of heroes and stars. This year's patch of new famous faces includes short-track speed-skating heartthrob Apolo Anton Ohno, third-generation Olympian Jim Shea and the conference-room gold-medal Canadian figure-skating pair of David Pelletier and Jamie Sale.

Everyone knows these Olympians' stories and soon their faces will be everywhere. They are the pop music of the winter games. But what if you don't like pop music? What if you are more into bluegrass or indie rock? Where are your Olympians? Have no fear: I have found them.

These athletes were the sole competitors for their countries during the 2002 Winter Olympics. They also come from nations not normally associated with winter sports.

First up is Patrick Singleton of Bermuda. These were Singleton's second Olympics and he is the only member of the Bermuda luge team. Imagine that. He was introduced to the sport at age 6 when his grandmother built him a road luge. In 2001, he suffered a neck and shoulder injury when he hit a Japanese cameraman who had mistakenly stepped onto the luge track during World Cup qualifying in Nagano, Japan. At 27, he currently works in Japan as a financial reporter. At this year's winter games, Singleton ended up taking 37th in the men's single luge and giving hope to all those other Bermudian lugers out there.

Next is the cross-country skier from Cameroon, Isaac Menyoli. He became only the second African skier -- the first being Phillip Boit of Kenya -- to compete at the winter Olympics. Menyoli, 29, began cross-country skiing in 1997 when he moved to Wisconsin to study at the University of Milwaukee. While Menyoli finished 67th and therefore did not qualify in the men's sprint qualifying, he has loftier goals than winning an Olympic medal. The former high school track and field athlete hopes to use his "15 minutes of fame" to bring attention to the serious AIDS problem in his home country of Cameroon.

That brings us to Laurence Thoms, 21, of Fiji. Thoms, an alpine skier, is the first ever winter games Olympian from the Pacific Island nation of Fiji. He currently lives and trains in Auckland, New Zealand. Apparently, New Zealand is the closest country with decent mountains and regular snowfall. Thoms is one of only two Fijian alpine skiers in the country (the other is Tomasi Toki). In Salt Lake City, he failed to finish the first run of the men's slalom and therefore was eliminated from the competition. That's OK, though. He is still the best alpine skier in all of Fiji.

There they are, ladies and gentlemen: the polka of the Olympic Winter Games. Sure, they did not medal or even finish in one case, but they act as signs that winter sports are growing in popularity and spreading across the globe. Above all else, they are Olympians. And nothing can take that away from them.

Write to Cole at


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