At long last, Zimbabwe will have its first Winter Olympian to cheer for next month in Sochi.
Luke Steyn is set to become the African nation's first competitor at a Winter Games, as the alpine ski racer is scheduled to compete in slalom and giant slalom.
According to the New York Times, the 20-year-old Steyn was born in the nation's capital, Harare, but moved to Switzerland when he was two years old. Though he's lived all over Europe and attended school at the University of Colorado, Steyn said he keeps his place of birth close to his heart.
"Though I have moved from Zimbabwe, I still feel very much connected to it," Steyn told the Times. "As they say, it's in your blood, and I hope to live and work in Africa again one day."
Based on the most recent FIS points list, Steyn is currently ranked 1,659th in the world in GS and 2,860th in slalom, so don't be expecting Zimbabwe to also collect its first-ever Winter Olympic medal. Zimbabwe has won a total of eight medals from past Summer Games, seven of which have been won by swimmer Kirsty Coventry.
However, Zimbabwe isn't the only country that will be making its first-ever appearance at a Winter Olympics this year.
Malta has qualified alpine skier Elise Pellegrin, American-raised slopestyle skier Julia Marino is set to be Paraguay's first Winter Olympian, and Yohan Goutt Goncalves will ski in the men's slalom event for Timor-Leste. Togo has also never been to a Winter Games, but could be sending two athletes this year — cross-country skier Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean and slalom skier Alessia Afi Dipol.
Meanwhile, Bruno Banani, the Tongan luger who changed his name to match a German lingerie company as a marketing ploy, has qualified for the Games through his results on the World Cup tour this year and will be Tonga's first representative at the Winter Olympics. Banani finished 31st at this year's World Cup stop in Whistler.
Finally, a number of countries that sent athletes to the 2010 Games won't have representatives in Sochi this year. That includes Ghana, as "The Snow Leopard" Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, a slalom skier who endeared himself to Sea to Sky residents during the last Winter Olympics, won't be back. Ethiopia, Colombia, North Korea, Senegal and South Africa also aren't sending any competitors this year.
ORCA DISPLAY SPARKS OUTRAGE
One of the major tourist attractions constructed in the host city before the Olympics was the Sochi Dolphinarium, which opened in 2012. The facility includes a 20-metre long performance pool, capacity for 800 spectators and a museum, and displays many different species of aquatic life.
However, the facility is coming under criticism amidst reports that two orca whales that were captured from the wild will be put on display at the Dolphinarium during the Olympics. They will be the first orcas ever displayed for the public in Russia.
A Russian killer whale research group was the first to learn of the capture of eight orcas that were being held in Vladivostok, which is located in southeast Russia on the Pacific coast. The U.K.'s Mirror reports that it took a 7,400 kilometre flight spanning seven time zones to transport the two orcas from Vladivostok to Sochi.
Online petitions have sprung up demanding the exhibit be shut down, garnering hundreds of thousands of signatures worldwide.
TERROR SUSPECTS ARRESTED
Following last month's terror attacks in the city of Volgograd, five suspects were arrested 300 kilometres east of Sochi last week, though Russian officials did not immediately connect them to the Volgograd bombings. The Associated Press reports that Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee alleges the five individuals detained possessed ammunition and various explosives.
However, security remains on high alert in the Sochi area after the bodies of six men were found shot to death in four cars in the nearby city of Pyatigorsk. Explosives were also set up near the vehicles and police have been unable to determine who was responsible for the shootings.