There were four requirements necessary to make the Fiji Ski Team. Knowing how to ski wasn't one of them.
Having Fiji ancestry was, so was age, between 16 and 25, having a sports background and having a willingness to survive weather below 70 degrees.
A simple ad in a Fiji newspaper drew 120 applicants. One survived the cold, learned to ski and will be Fiji's sole Olympian. His name is Laurence Thoms.
He will ski in both the slalom and giant slalom events Feb. 21 and 23. His chances of winning, odds makers would say, are about as good a snowstorm in Fiji.
The story began at a New Year's Eve party in Fiji at the end of 1998. How nice it would be, consensus was among a group of friends, to have a Fijian ski in Salt Lake City.
"So, they placed an ad in the newspaper," recalled Phil Taylor, head of the Fiji delegation. "I saw the ad and thought it was some kind of joke, but I called the number and volunteered my services."
The six applicants picked four men and two women got an all-expense trip, including ski lessons and cold-weather gear, to snow country in Europe.
Taylor, a native Australian working in Fiji, had a background in sports, in teaching and even skiing. He became the lead man in the endeavor to produce a South Pacific Winter Olympian.
Thoms, it seems, was living in New Zealand with his father, a New Zealander, and mother, a Fijian. His winter background was that he had gone through training in southern New Zealand to become a snowboard teacher, but he wasn't hired. Next, he went through training to become a ski teacher and was hired.
"Up to that point, however, he had very little ski experience. He'd never run a gate at that point. He certainly knew very little about ski racing," said Taylor.
Toni Hauswirth, one of those with the New Year's idea, offered to fund the learn-to-be-an-Olympian project.
Ski sponsors, however, were slow, no, make that impossible, to get interested, not in islands where a cold spell is considered anything around 70 degrees and snow is something made from crushed ice cubes.
As far as making it into the Olympics, Taylor said there were two options be among the top 500 skiers in the world or, for smaller countries, scoring under 140 points under FIS race results. Under the small-country rule, Fiji could qualify one male and one female. Thoms, the only one to make it under the 140 limit, actually scored 85 in the slalom and 95 in the giant slalom, "so he's actually become a pretty good skier," he continued.
As for the cold, Taylor said at times it was bitter. "When we trained in Korea, it was like minus 20 below. We took lots and lots and lots and lots of breaks to get hot drinks and warm up," he added.For the past three months, Thoms has been training in Switzerland. He was scheduled to arrive in Salt Lake City late Wednesday, skis in hand and double-warm parka wrapped tightly around his suntanned body.
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