Sports

Can you name this Olympic skier and his snowless country?

Yohan Goncalves Goutt_CROP.jpg

Skier Yohan Goncalves Goutt carries his country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Do you know the official name of his country, also known as East Timor?

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Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It doesn't snow in East Timor. Yohan Goncalves Goutt says there's not even a word for downhill skiing there. The local media apparently call it "snow-skating" instead. So how did Goncalves Goutt become the nation's first-ever winter Olympian? 

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He gives credit to both his French father and his Timorese mother: "I like to say that my mom gave me the heritage, the spirit, and the blood. And my dad gave me this very French thing that, in winter, we go skiing. So I basically combine both."

Other unlikely places represented at the Winter Olympics — like Jamaica, with its famous bobsled team — have not seen the same sort of civil strife as East Timor. A former Portuguese colony, it was invaded by Indonesia soon after the Portuguese left in the 1970s. 

More than 100,000 people died in fighting in East Timor in the 80s and 90s. The Indonesian occupation ended with the intervention of an international peacekeeping mission in 1999. Goncalves Goutt's own mother fled the country for Australia in the 70s at age 11. Today, East Timor is one of Asia's poorest nations — and half of the population in the former Portuguese colony lives in extreme poverty. 

How does all this history weigh on Goncalves Goutt as an athlete representing not just a country, but the people of East Timor and all they've been through?

"Basically my mom escaped when the war started," he says. "But a lot of my family stayed. I have family members who died during this war, my grandmother stayed as a resistance fighter, and a few of my uncles stayed in the bush to fight. So in a way, my mother's side of the family is really attached to this country."

And, he says, for his family, "it's important to not forget , but to go one step forward, and not stay on the past and the sadness. And I think sports is a really good thing to make the country bigger to the world."

But you won't be hearing his country referred to as East Timor at the Olympics. Goncalves Goutt represents Timor-Leste at the Sochi Games. That's the official name of the independent nation in Southeast Asia that comprises the eastern half of the island of Timor.

As for his most exciting Olympic moments so far, Goncalves Goutt says they include carrying the flag of Timor-Leste in the opening ceremony and the joy of meeting other athletes proudly representing their own countries. Of course, skiing alongside some of the world's greatest skiers is awesome, too, he says.

By the way, when he's training, Goncalves Goutt says he often listens to Timorese music. He reccomends checking out the Timorese rappers Charlie Roscoe & Jano Viegas singing Hare husi O nia Matan.