February 19, 2018 / 10:25 AM / 8 months ago

Togo trailblazer Petitjean says Africa warming to winter sports

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Togo’s trailblazing cross-country skier Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean is glad she is no longer the “new kid on the block” at the Winter Olympics and says the record number of African countries competing in Pyeongchang proves the continent is warming to sports on snow and ice.

Cross-Country Skiing – Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Women's Sprint Classic Qualifications – Alpensia Cross-Country Skiing Centre – Pyeongchang, South Korea – February 13, 2018 - Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean of Togo competes. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Togo was one of only three African nations to compete in Sochi four years ago but with eight sending athletes to the Games in South Korea, Petitjean said the media spotlight is less intense this time around.

“It’s great to have more and more African countries participating in the Games,” she told a news conference on Monday.

“In Sochi I was the new kid on the block, first time that Togo was represented, so it was exciting and very new.

“This time it’s my second Winter Games .... so I’m not the new kid on the block anymore.

“All sorts of other African athletes have now joined and are newcomers and that’s very helpful. I feel a little more at ease.

“I’m not as timid any more and I’m very happy about not being so visible so I can concentrate much more on my competitions.”

Petitjean took up skiing after moving to France from Togo when she was a child. The Olympic journey had been hard financially, she said, with Togo offering very little support.

Despite the obvious challenges for Africa in producing winter sports athletes, Petitjean said nothing should hold the continent back from trying to carve out a place for itself at the Winter Games.

“It’s not because there’s no snow in my country that there shouldn’t be any skiing,” added Petitjean, who finished 59th in the sprint classic and 83rd in the 10km free in Pyeongchang.

“Africans live elsewhere in the world, not only in Africa, and they have the right to represent their country even if they don’t live in their mother country.

“We are, after all, in the 21st century. There are no borders. Anyone should be able to do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do, and that’s fabulous.”

Chef de mission Hyacinthe Edorh said raising the profile of winter sports in Togo was a tough task.

“In Africa, basically people are only interested in football,” he added. “But there are Togolese who live abroad and we would like to show the Togolese population that there are other things besides basketball and football.

“Skiing is a sport one can practise in Asia, in Europe and why not in Africa as well?”

Editing by Amlan Chakraborty

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