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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 01:30 GMT

A few brave men

BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay salutes four special skiers who survived a cross-country sprint at a snowy Soldier Hollow.

Norwegian Tor Arne Hetland won Olympic gold in the men's cross country sprint.

But in a truly Nordic discipline, two Africans, an Asian and an Irish skier took just as many plaudits.

Philip Boit of Kenya, Isaac Menyoli from Cameroon, Thai Prawat Nagvajara and Paul O'Connor from county Cork failed to even qualify for the quarter-finals of the event.

But each in their own way completed a fantastic story just by making it to the Salt Lake Games.

Philip Boit, Kenya
Finished 66th (out of 71)

  • Cross country career: First Kenyan in Winter Olympics when he finished last in 10km event at Nagano Games in 1998
  • Interesting fact: Was eight months old when his eldest brother Mike Boit won 800m bronze at 1972 Olympics

    His verdict
    "I guess it is still weird for people to see a Kenyan on skis - after all, I grew up on a farm where my parents kept cows.

    "But someone will find their way to the mountains if they really want to.

    "I gained a lot of experience in Nagano, and got to meet my true hero there, Norwegian legend Bjorn Daehlie.

    "In fact, I named my four-year-old son after him.

    "Today, it felt nice, but sprint is a new technique for me. It's a bit like running a 1,500m.

    "I am very focused on my future, and my target will be working towards the next Olympics.

    "But I hope to look round Salt Lake City a bit first."

    Isaac Menyoli, Cameroon
    Finished 67th

  • Cross country career: First athlete from Cameroon to compete in Winter Olympics
  • Interesting fact: Architect by profession, trains on dry land for two hours each day after work

    His verdict
    "Skiing was a hobby for me really, but watching Philip four years ago is one of the reasons I am here today.

    "I also thought it would bring more attention to the serious ongoing problems in my country.

    "Just being here is amazing, competing against people who are obviously very good at what they do.

    "I love everything about it, it's such a powerful feeling, like being in a dream world.

    "I just hope we can get more minority nations involved in the future."

    Prawat Nagvajara, Thailand
    Finished 68th

  • Cross country career: First Thai to compete at the Winter Olympics
  • Interesting fact: The 43-year-old is a professor at an American university

    His verdict
    "I discovered snow, and skiing when I came to Boston as a student.

    "The whole experience here has simply been the greatest honour of my life.

    "I loved being in the opening ceremony, and holding the Thai flag in the parade of Nations.

    "In the race, I got too cocky and fell when trying to overtake someone. It was a bit of a scramble.

    "But it was great fun. To be honest, I still don't believe I am here."

    Paul O'Connor, Ireland
    Finished 70th

  • Cross country career: First Irish cross-country skier
  • Interesting fact: Lives in Provo, Utah and is a practising Mormon. Composes instrumental celtic guitar music in his spare time

    His verdict
    "I came to the US many years ago, my original motivation being a 5' 2" blonde.

    "That didn't work out, but I soon got hooked by the sport.

    "And I consider being the first Nordic skier from Ireland a great honour and privilege.

    "The race was a blur from start to finish, but so enjoyable.

    "It won't show on the scoreboard, but meeting these challenges is good for the soul.

    "The Olympics have been a wonderful experience - it's a coming together of people and countries.

    "But at 43, I'm no spring chick. If in 20 years time, Ireland has a competitive team, I'll have done my job."

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