Sunday, July 29, 2012

Haiti's Olympic team

flags of many nations fly as the Olympic flag is carried in during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics (one of those interesting moments of transition caught on the television screen)

As many of you were, I was glued to the television last night watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I laughed at the corgis and the parachuting queen, oohed and aahed over the rings coming together and the lighting of the torch, agreed with a friend via Facebook that we should have the sheep back, and got nostalgic with Paul McCartney. It was odd, it was eccentric, and it was fun in a very strange way. I was impressed with the dancing skills of the medical professionals in the health care piece, but most impressed with the honor guard of 500 construction workers who had built the facility. Great fireworks, too.
Olympic torch seen from below during the opening ceremonies for the Olympics in London 7.27.12
However, I was not impressed with the coverage, or lack thereof, of the Haitian team.  That includes Haitian news sources. 

True, I had forgotten that the Olympics was this summer.  It's not hard to do when you're in Haiti.  But I'm with my parents for a few weeks, and they reminded me about the opening ceremonies.  First thing I wondered: does Haiti have a team this year?  After all, the earthquake was only two years ago.  So I was most glued to the parade of nations as the letters crept up, countries in alphabetical order...  I hadn't realized there were so many countries beginning with Gu- until I had to wait through them to see.  Yes! There they are!  There they go.  And pretty much only a comment about one of them being Mark Zuckerberg's former roommate.  Sigh.

Haiti's flagbearer at the London Olympics as seen all too briefly on television
As I said, not impressed.  So I went hunting for news.

First I found this article, which is posted in quite a number of places:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti: Haiti's Olympic team in London isn't very Haitian - Olympics -
It, too, talks about Mark Zuckerberg - but at least it mentions that his roommate is going to hit him up for a donation to the foundation he wants to form in order to raise up more Haitian athletes.  Here's an excerpt:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Four of Haiti's five Olympians at the London Games have something in common - they're not from Haiti.

With millions of Haitians living on $2 a day or less and hundreds of thousands of people rendered homeless by a devastating earthquake two years ago, the country struggles to produce world-class athletes. But those with Haitian links are still eager to represent the small Caribbean country.

"I still feel Haitian even if I wasn't born there," 21-year-old sprinter Marlena Wesh said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Wesh, who will run in the 200 and 400-meter races at the Olympics, grew up in Virginia and is a senior at Clemson University. Her parents are from Haiti.

Besides having family ties to Haiti, the four foreign-born Olympians will be competing in track and field, including the former college roommate of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg...

There's nothing unusual about athletes from multiethnic nations like the United States or Britain representing other countries. But what may be surprising to some is that Haiti, which seems to lurch from one calamity to another, is being represented in London at all.

The country does pose unusual challenges for athletes. Three of the country's five competitive running tracks are home to thousands of people in tents and shanties who were displaced by the January 2010 earthquake. The office of the Haitian Olympic Committee overlooks a hillside shantytown and has a budget of only $400,000. The U.S. Olympic Committee's budget is about $170 million.

Still no good photos, so I went hunting via search engine images.  Best I could do was a postage stamp from 1960.  Well, no, there were photos from other Olympics, but nothing current. 

Haitian postage stamp commemorating the Winter Olympics 1960
Tonight, as I sat down to watch the men's gymnastics and the swimming competitions, I decided to search again.  Here's one that I missed: Samyr Laine ’06 Aims for Haiti's First Olympic Medal in 84 Years, found at  Yes, it too has Zuckerberg (logical since it's the Harvard paper), but also some information on one of the athletes representing Haiti, one of those people who are not technically Haitian, but diaspora.  Part of the article explains: HAITIAN AT HEART

Among the curiosities of Laine’s Olympic campaign is the fact that he is competing for Haiti—a nation he had never visited until he was 26.

But Laine grew up speaking Creole at home. While at Harvard, he was heavily involved with both the Caribbean Club and the Harvard-Haitian Alliance, engaging with the sizeable Haitian community in the greater Boston area.

“I would say it was more like a Haitian raised in the U.S., rather than an American choosing to compete with Haiti,” Laine said.

Throughout Laine's childhood, he added, his mother feared returning to the nation that had caused so much suffering for the family.

But after a deadly earthquake struck Haiti two years ago, Laine felt compelled to reconnect with his family's nation of origin and commit himself to improving the lives of his fellow Haitians.

“After the earthquake happened, and at 26 years old, there’s not much my mother could do,” Laine said. “As a Haitian-American, the culture has always been near and dear to me.”

Laine hopes that his Olympic pursuits will help lead to better athletic facilities in Haiti, giving children there the same opportunities he had to improve at his craft and compete internationally.

I tried the site for the newspaper we get. Do you know Le Nouvelliste has NOTHING on the website's sports page? Now that is just sad.  I did manage to learn that Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe was in the UK for political reasons and took advantage of that to accompany the delegation.  That was something, anyway.

Next stop: Radio Television Caraibes.  Nothing on the team per se, but a fun article on the opening ceremonies with a focus on the parachuting Queen Elizabeth.  And, thanks be to God, a photo of the delegation!  At long last.  For your viewing pleasure: 

Haiti's delegation in the Parade of Nations - Olympics 2012, London
Une cérémonie d'ouverture magistrale lance les Jeux - Radio Television Caraibes Haiti

Finally I got wise.  I was expecting it to be up front, but I learned - again - that if you want news, you have to dig.  The magic words are jeux olympiques as search words on sites located in Haiti. 

So, finally an article for you: Haïti aux 20e Jeux Olympiques de Londres - Le Nouvelliste  You can always read it via Google translator if you don't read French but still want the information.
An excerpt:
Moïse Joseph, Marlena Wesh, Jeffrey Julmis, Samyr Lainé (athlétisme) et Linouse Desravines (judo) seront les cinq athlètes qui représenteront Haïti aux prochains Jeux Olympiques d’été, a confirmé Jean-Edouard Baker, président du Comité olympique haïtien (COH), au cours d’une conférence de presse donnée jeudi au local du COH.

Ces athlètes grâce à la Solidarité olympique du Comité international olympique (CIO) et certaines fédérations internationales se préparent actuellement aux Etats Unis d’Amérique et en France afin de pouvoir rivaliser avec les meilleurs et, qui sait, se faire la médaille comme c’était le cas pour Sylvio Cator (saut en longueur) aux jeux olympiques déroulés en 1928 à Amsterdam.

Haitian state television will be showing the games.  I hope it will inspire more Haitian athletes - and more donors to sponsor them for the 2016 Olympics.


  1. Thanks for this! Like you, I was very disappointed by the commentary, or lack thereof, on the opening ceremonies. But Uganda was worse -- all they said about Uganda was that Winston Churchill called it the Pearl of Africa, but he had never met Idi Amin. Really? They had to bring up Idi Amin?

  2. That really is the most random set of facts - and how about what is happening there now?! Maybe someone would really like to know something a bit more current.

    This is, of course, other than the obvious fact that the Ugandan athletes and people deserve better.