Africa Defense Forum
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Togo’s first winter Olympian wants to inspire Africa


Togo’s first competitor at the Winter Olympics, cross-country skier Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean, did not expect to win a medal at the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia. Instead, she hoped to inspire African athletes to compete in winter sports.

“I think all the people in all [African] countries are happy for me,” said Petitjean, who turned 20 a week after the race. “It’s good for African countries that they see it’s possible to participate in the Winter Olympic Games.”

Petitjean crossed the line in the women’s 10-kilometer classical race February 13, 2014, in 68th place, less than 10 minutes behind winner Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland.

Petitjean was born in Niger to a Togolese mother. The family moved to Haute-Savoie in the French Alps when she was 2. Becoming a skier, then, wasn’t as unusual for her as it is for most Togolese girls. “I practiced cross-country since I was 12 years old,” she said. “It happened by chance. I tried it and continued doing it.”

Her Olympic adventure started in March 2013, when she received a Facebook message from an official from the Togolese ski federation, asking whether she would be interested in representing Togo at the Sochi Games.

“I spoke with my family, and they said, ‘It’s OK, let’s go for Sochi!’ ” Petitjean said.

Her career has been made possible by her own family, overcoming a lack of funds from the Togo federation. She now hopes that competing at the Olympics and the subsequent media attention will help attract sponsors.

“It’s very difficult because the team hasn’t got money for training,” she said. “It’s hard for such a little team to continue.”

Her Olympic debut has her longing for more, and her focus already has turned toward the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

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