Second-tier skiers compete against big-time names 

The skier from Mexico was decades older than some of his fellow competitors. The one from the Cayman Islands took a three-week sabbatical from college just to compete.

And the skier from Georgia, well, he went down the course with a heavy heart.

These lower-tier skiers competing at the bottom of the start list in Tuesday's Olympic giant slalom race didn't have of a much chance to win. Any chance, really. But they came for the thrill, the experience of a lifetime — and they all had unique stories about how they arrived in Whistler.

They were able to compete by accumulating enough International Ski Federation (FIS) points to meet the Olympic standards. That put them in a competition where they would start alongside racers like Switzerland's Carlo Janka, who won the event. Their participation in the games is a way to open the door to developing nations and give them an incentive to build their programs and accelerate their athletes' progress.

It's also a way to meet the Olympic ideal that taking part is just as important as winning.

"This is great honor to be able to represent my country," said Dow Travers of the Cayman Islands, who is a sophomore at Brown University. "We have a long line of great summer athletes. It's wonderful we can translate that to the slopes finally."

Of the racers who finished both runs, India's Jamyang Namgial — ranked 4,697th in the world — wound up last, 57.09 seconds behind Janka's winning time.

That mattered little to him. On this day, he was better than U.S. multi-medalist Bode Miller, who skied out after the first run.

"This was really good for me," Namgial said.

For Georgian Jaba Gelashvili, competing was a way to take his mind off the tragic death of countryman Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed after slamming into a steel pole on the luge course hours before the opening ceremony.

"The feeling is better in the team," said Gelashvili, who wound up 50th. "It's still there, but we're trying not to feel it, as hard as it is."

At 51, Mexico's Hubertus Von Hohenlohe was easily the oldest competitor in the field. He was also the most noticeable. Von Hohenlohe wore a ski suit that had a picture of a gun in a holster.

"It's the coolest suit I think ever made," Von Hohenlohe said.

Von Hohenlohe was making his Olympic return after competing at Lillehammer Games in 1994. He finished 48th in downhill there; this time, he was 78th in the giant slalom.

Any plans for another Olympics?

"It's already pushed quite a bit now," Von Hohenlohe said. "We'll see."

The field included skiers from countries not usually associated with snow. Like Senegal's Leyti Seck, who wound up 28.31 seconds behind Janka.

"I'm happy that I finished," said Seck said, who trains and goes to school in Austria.

Being around the big names in the sport was a chance to pick up tips. Iran's Hossein Shemshaki Saveh chatted with the likes of Ted Ligety and Didier Cuche to get some advice.

"It's nice to be with the good skiers, fast skiers," Saveh said. "We talk about the sport, they give us some information. It's good."

Travers knows he has loads of homework waiting for him when he gets back to Brown. A sophomore geobiology major, his teachers weren't falling for that tired old excuse of "can't do my homework, I've got to compete in the Olympics."

Still, he wouldn't trade it for anything.

Well, maybe a spot on the Cayman Islands' Olympic rugby squad, a sport that was recently added into the Olympics beginning in 2016. He's already contemplating that.

But first things first — he still wants to compete in the Winter Games and has his sights set on Sochi in 2014.

That is, if he isn't upstaged before then.

"My little brothers now live in Aspen, so they can start on snow," the 22-year-old Travers said. "My little brother, Dean, is coming along pretty well. If he hasn't boosted me out of my spot, you'll be seeing me in 2014."

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