- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY Luis Carrasco is the fastest skeleton slider in all of Mexico.
Of course, that isn't saying much.
Still, Carrasco doesn't mind that he has little chance of finishing in the top 10 of today's Olympic skeleton competition and even less chance of earning a medal.
When you're a native of Meridia, Mexico average February high temperature: 84 degrees you take what you can get.
"I'd love to finish in the top 20," said Carrasco, a member of Mexico's four-man Olympic squad. "My only practices are before competition. I don't ever train any other time."
When it comes to sun-baked Olympic aspirations, Carrasco has plenty of company. Fourteen years after the now-famous Jamaican bobsled team paved the way for warm-weather athletes in cold-weather sports, the Winter Games are teeming with unlikely participants.
Think lugers from Bermuda. Slalom racers from Fiji. Cross-country skiers from Cameroon.
And don't forget those Jamaican bobsledders, who have actually become gulp competitive. To a point. (More on that later).
"I'm still adjusting to the cold," said Lascelles Oneil Brown, part of Jamaica's two-man sled. "[But] with bobsled, you're only out in the cold for a minute. So it's not that difficult."
For warm-weather athletes, adjustments are the name of the game. There's the training. The travel. The baffling sight of ice and snow.
Not to mention the sports themselves, which range from mildly foreign ski jumping, biathlon, curling to downright bizarre.
Like, for instance, skeleton.
While Mexico has its share of extreme pursuits, including cliff-diving and bullfighting, sliding headfirst down an ice chute at speeds exceeding 70 mph is, well, generally not among them.
Especially not in balmy Meridia, which sits southeast of Cancun on the tip of Yucatan Peninsula.
"When you learn, you need to touch your head to the ice, which will slow you down," Carrasco said. "I didn't. I didn't stay low on the curves and suffered two to four G forces. I broke my nose twice once at Lillehammer and once on the old run at Lake Placid and my rib once. I [also] broke my helmet."
Isaac Menyoli can relate. An architect by trade, Menyoli grew up in the arid West African nation of Cameroon, where soccer is king (defending Olympic champs), cigar tobacco is a major export (world-class stuff) and skiing is more or less unheard of (hint: there's no snow).
When Menyoli moved to Wisconsin to study at the University of Milwaukee in 1997, he took up cross-country skiing. Two years later, he made his competitive debut in a 43-kilometer freestyle race at the Badger State Games.
Charitably speaking, he struggled.
"I skied for more than four hours," Menyoli said. "I had no technique, nothing. … It was the most ridiculous and painful thing I ever did."
Menyoli decided to get serious about cross country after seeing Phillip Boit, a Kenyan, become the first African Olympic skier at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Boit, who finished 92nd and last at Nagano, is back for a second go at Salt Lake City, where he has been joined by Costa Rica's Arturo Kinch and Thailand's Prawat Nagvajara.
Boit, Menyoli and Nagvajara finished 1-2-3 in 66th, 67th and 68th place in yesterday's 1.5K sprint.
"It was fun," said Nagvajara, 43, an engineering professor at Drexel University. "I fell when I was going to pass a fellow. I think I was too cocky."
Like Boit, the Jamaican bobsled team has lots of strange and unusual company. There's a two-man crew from Trinidad and Tobago. A four-man squad from the Virgin Islands. A sled from Puerto Rico.
Then there's Brazilian driver Eric Maleson, who got into the sport while studying at a language school in Boston. Last year, Maleson sold his first sled, the bright yellow "Frozen Banana," to help pay for a trip to the Park City World Cup.
The name of his new ride? "Samba on Ice."
"We started out before those guys, and they have called us pioneers," said Jamaica's Winston Alexander, a two-time Olympian. "So we'll take the credit."
In yesterday's two-man competition, Alexander and Brown finished a disappointing 27th, more than two seconds behind winners Christian Reich and Steve Anderhub of Switzerland.
Though the Jamaican duo owns one of the best pushes in world they captured the two-man push World Championship 2000 they race in a relatively slow 2-year-old German sled.
At $40,000, it's the best ride they can afford.
"I hope the sponsors out there see the ability that [we] have and know that we have an equipment problem," Alexander said. "We have the background, the athletes and the driving is going good. But we need the equipment to be in medal contention."
For Kinch and Menyoli, disappointment is a relative term. In the classical portion of the combined pursuit race last week, Kinch finished 81st, while Menyoli finished last.
Though both racers finished more than 15 minutes off the winning pace, neither was upset with the outcome.
"Some people have it easier because they're more experienced or they grew up with snow and with skis," Kinch said. "I didn't, so I don't think about how I compare. I just try to beat my time every time and improve."
While the costs are high and the medal chances are low, being a warm-weather Winter Olympian has its perks. Team Jamaica was immortalized in the Disney film "Cool Runnings" and has since had a chance to hobnob with royalty.
No lie.
"[Prince Albert of Monaco] is a good friend," Watt said. "We talk, rap."
Albert Grimaldi, the Prince of Monaco, is a four-time Olympian bobsled driver.
"His royalty is a friend," Watt added, "except when we compete."
Fiji's Laurence Thoms, a one-man Olympic team, was his country's flag bearer in the Opening Ceremony's March of Nations.
"It is great to be a part of something like this," said Thoms, an alpine skier who will compete in tomorrow's giant slalom and Friday's slalom.
For Carrasco, the best thing about sliding at the Olympics is, well, sliding.
After all, it's one of the few chances he gets.
"It's amazingly exciting," he said. "I [first] saw [skeleton] at Calgary. Two guys were walking away, one with a cut on his forehead, the other with one on his arm. And they were very excited. So I tried it."


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