- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - The red-and-white flag of Malta painted on the left cheek of giant slalom skier Elise Pellegrin was nearly washed away by the rain.

The memory of her first Olympic race? Now that couldn’t be smudged.

Pellegrin was among a large contingent of lower-ranked skiers in the 90-racer field who really had no illusion of winning a rain-soaked event on Tuesday, instead just interested in soaking up the Olympic experience. Pellegrin finished the two-run giant slalom 36.25 seconds behind winner Tina Maze of Slovenia - and still celebrated.

“I’m really proud,” the 22-year-old said. “I hope Malta is proud of me, too.”

Behind the big names such as Maze, Anna Fenninger of Austria and American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin, there were some lesser-known skiers with interesting stories:

- Jasmine Campbell of the Virgin Islands getting money from the International Olympic Committee.

- Emily Bamford of Australia giving up horseback riding to concentrate on skiing.

- Professional musician Vanessa-Mae swapping her violin for skis and using her father’s surname, Vanakorn, to compete for Thailand.

- Alessia Afi Dipol switching from India to Togo for the Olympics.

“Until yesterday, I watched (these skiers) on the TV and now I’m here with them,” said Dipol, who represented India until last year. “It’s really strange.”

Of the 67 skiers finishing a second run through the soft snow, almost half wound up more than 10 seconds behind Maze.

For quite a few, though, time hardly mattered.

“Obviously, there is a difference in skill,” said Campbell, who draws a stipend from the IOC to help with her ski career. “But I’ve had a few conversations with a couple of (the elite skiers) and they are such kind, generous, welcoming people. They make you feel at ease, not nearly as intimidated as I probably should be.”

There are those who might argue that these lower-ranked skiers don’t belong in the field. Not at the Olympics, anyway, maybe at a World Cup race.

After all, each country is allowed a maximum of four competitors in a race, which hinders some of the power nations that have talent-rich rosters and must leave medal-contending skiers on the sidelines. Take, for instance, Austria, which didn’t enter Nicole Hosp, who’s won two medals in Sochi.

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