How Kenyan Olympic Skier Philip Boit Became an Icon

Kenyan skiier Philip Boit helped pave the way for more African athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics. (Photo Credit: Google Images)

Kenyan skiier Philip Boit helped pave the way for more African athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics. (Photo Credit: Google Images)

In a feature story for BBC News, Maddy Savage chronicles the friendship of Kenyan Olympic skier Philip Boit and Norwegian skiing icon Bjorn Daehlie. The unlikely friendship began between then-newcomer Boit and Olympic skiing icon Daehlie.  Boit shocked the world by qualifying for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics a mere two years after first seeing snow. Daehlie was competing for his sixth Gold medal in skiing. Initially, the Olympic skiers from traditional skiing countries didn’t know what to make of Boit, wondering aloud why someone from a farming family in Eldoret in western Kenya (home to some of the world’s fastest runners), would pursue skiing as a sport. Some even suggested that Nike, who sponsored the then-fledgling Boit, was using the Kenyan athlete as a marketing gimmick.

What emerged on the slopes is a friendship that has stood the test of time. As expected, Daehlie won his sixth gold medal making him the first athlete to win six gold medals at the Winter Olympics. The rest is what happens when a legendary athlete recognizes the tremendous effort put forth by a newcomer who no one expected to be there, let alone finish a race, in pouring down rain nonetheless. Savage writes:

“But instead of going straight to the medal ceremony, he (Daehlie) waited for the final competitor to finish the race – Philip Boit. ‘We heard on the speaker that he was near the stadium and I felt really impressed that he was able to finish the race in these conditions and I wanted to wait to have him over the finish line – this African, brave skier,’ says Daehlie.

Boit describes the crowd ‘going wild’ when he eventually entered the stadium and says he can remember getting a sudden burst of energy.

‘They were shouting ‘Kenya GO!, Philip GO!’ It was like I was winning a medal even though I was last.’

He finally crossed the finish line 20 minutes after Daehlie and was embraced by the Norwegian star.

Senegalese skier Lamine Gueye was the first African skier at the Winter Olympics (1984). It was the symbolic gesture of good sportsmanship by Daehlie and the friendship that emerged from that gesture, which many believe led to more Africans competing in the Winter Olympics. Since 1998, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar have debuted at the Winter Olympics, and Zimbabwe and Togo will compete for the first time in Sochi.

Read more at BBC News.

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