The 2018 Olympic Winter Games kicked off yesterday in PyeongChang, South Korea, where a small but instantly recognizable Mexican delegation of four were ready and eager to compete.
Despite a dearth of ski hills in Mexico — there is only one ski resort, located in Coahuila — all of the Mexican athletes will be competing in skiing in alpine, cross-country and free-style categories.
And all will wear distinctive ski suits with a Day of the Dead theme.
Only two of the team members were actually born in Mexico, and one doesn’t even speak Spanish. But all expressed pride to be part of the team, the biggest Winter Olympics contingent from Mexico since 1992, when 20 Mexican athletes traveled to France.
This year is also the first in 16 years that the team has consisted of more than one athlete.
Veteran Olympics athlete Sarah Schleper, 38, has competed under the star-spangled banner of the United States four times, but now represents Mexico after marrying her husband in 2007 and obtaining her Mexican citizenship seven years later.
“I feel lucky to represent such a beautiful country; my family is Mexican, and I am proud to wear its colors,” she told the newspaper El Universal.
Rodolfo Dickson, 20, is also competing in alpine skiing. Originally from Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, he was adopted at the age of three by a Canadian couple. Dickson does not speak Spanish because he has lived most of his life in Canada.
PyeongChang is his first Olympic Games, and attending them fulfills a long-held dream.
“I don’t live in Mexico but I am very proud of the place where I was born,” he said.
“I really want to start something new,” he told USA Today. “There are a lot of young guys in Colorado who could represent Mexico, so in a few years I hope there will be a big team and athletes capable of being really successful.”
Mexico is represented in the cross-country skiing category by Germán Madrazo, 43. Born in Querétaro state, the businessman has lived in Texas for the past 10 years.
Madrazo is relatively a newcomer to winter sports, having taken to cross-country skiing just last year. Still, he was fortunate enough to be named the flag bearer during yesterday’s opening ceremony.
The Mexican delegation is rounded out by Robert Franco, 24, who will be competing in freestyle skiing. A native of San Jose, California, Franco holds dual nationality thanks to his father, who was born in Jalisco.
Franco began skiing at the age of two, coached by his father. He also trained in the U.S. before joining the Mexican team.
“It is a huge honor to be pioneering this sport in Mexico,” Franco told USA Today. “It’s shocking how awesome the response was in Mexico. I thought everyone would be saying, ‘He lives in the U.S.’ But no, it was like, ‘You’re one of us, you’re family.'”
“We all know that our country is not known for winter sports; however, when you have a dream you try to reach it. I hope that us four dreamers participating in PyeongChang can be an example of what can be achieved,” he told El Universal.
The four Olympians arrived in South Korea under the wing of Mexico’s Winter Olympics veteran Hubertus von Hohenlohe, a German playboy whose antics have earned him the “world’s most interesting Olympian” title for his outfits in prior games.
During his participation in the 2014 Sochi Games as the single Mexican representative, von Hohenlohe wore a mariachi-themed suit, and donned a desperado-themed outfit for the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Von Hohenlohe descends from German royalty but has represented Mexico in alpine skiing at five Olympics, qualifying for citizenship because he was born in Mexico City.
Now 58, von Hohenlohe did not qualify for PyeongChang but he has taken on an organizational role instead. His touch will be recognizable, as he designed and arranged for the manufacture of distinctive Olympic clothing and uniforms emblazoned with a Day of the Dead theme for the team.
The Mexican-German athlete might have taken a back seat at this year’s Olympics, but his “most interesting” title remains firmly in his grip. Yesterday he released a song called Austin, protesting President Donald Trump’s plan to erect a wall between the United States and Mexico.