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Olympic Spirit

Match 10, 2002

Nepal news


As many of you will know I have spent the last few months absorbed in managing Nepal's first participation in the Winter Olympic Games. It was an extreme experience in many different ways. Of course it was an enormous honour to walk behind our national flag at the opening ceremony in Salt Lake City. And to see the joy on my son's face as he paraded it before millions of people watching the event live across the world brought tears to my eyes. I am sure there could be no prouder moment for any father. But the reality of international competition at this level provides many other equally intense experiences.

The Olympic Games is a hugely important event. It provides every qualifying nation with a shop window to display the character and quality of its people to the world. Those athletes who cheat and use drugs to enhance their performance will bring shame upon their people. And those athletes and officials who attend the games for personal amusement without any serious intention to do their best or help their nation will also reveal something rotten about their culture. But those who work with dedication and strength to achieve honest success will always bring honour to their nation. These are the true Olympians and by common consent of the international media I am proud to report that Nepal was firmly placed within this category.

ur athlete did not win any medals in the field but Jayaram Khadka certainly won the won the hearts of many in his struggle against adversity. No other Olympian in history seems to have improved his personal best as much Jay did in the 10km Classic Cross Country Ski Championship at Soldier Hollow on the 14th February. By improving his official record at that event by more than 500 points he almost certainly set a new Olympic record. And no other Olympian has ever competed with less experience in his discipline. Jay had no more than six weeks training on cross-country skis before the Games and his coach had even less. Over the past four seasons he had been extensively prepared in Alpine skiing which involves completely different equipment, techniques and race patterns. But because of a serious knee injury in training he had to qualify in a completely new sport that was unaffected by it. It is such stories that bring magic to the Olympics and a source of inspiration to millions of young people across the world. And when Jay hugged the exhausted athlete from Cameroon, whom he had just beaten after an epic duel for last place, the television commentators described the gesture as 'the essence of the Olympic spirit'. I can only hope the whole nation was as proud as his father and coach was at that special moment.

But the benefits of Olympic participation run much deeper than promoting national image. By introducing the concept of a new sport to our region, many investors and officials have been encouraged to realise the potential of developing facilities in Nepal. At Salt Lake City our delegation met senior International Ski Federation personnel, experienced ski course designers and builders and a number of important financiers. We were able to outline and progress a project for development that could realise the highest altitude ski training centre in the world. High altitude specialists have dominated these Olympic Games and many leading teams will be keen to take advantage of any facilities that we can provide to improve the performances of their athletes. And whilst snow conditions are deteriorating in Europe and America through the effects of global warming, they are actually improving in our region. Now it is a question of galvanising support and co-ordinating an international effort to see cross-country ski racing evolve in the Himalayas. Hopefully Nepal will be the first country in the region to take advantage of this new interest. Certainly the National Ski Team and I will do everything it can to promote such development.

The Salt Lake Games also provided greater experience for our national sports administration. The Winter Olympics are quite unlike the Summer Games in many respects. The need for extensive equipment and technical backup is extremely important in ski racing where the lives of competitors are constantly at risk. Properly experienced and fully professional officials are therefore needed to support our winter sports team and, as a direct result of these Games, the National Olympic Committee has proposed several important administrative changes that will greatly assist our participation at the Asian Winter Olympics in Japan next year. Three Nepali athletes are currently in training at our base in France and we are confident that our team will perform with great honour on that occasion.

I know that such things may appear small and petty when set against the tragedy of civil war in our nation. And it was not something that the team was insensitive about. The entire Olympic delegation was grief stricken over the massacres at Achham district that occurred on the very eve of our last competition at Soldier Hollow on 19th February. After the deaths of nearly 150 servicemen and civilians that night, Jay was extremely reluctant to race and his spectacular fall at the last bend only added to an enormous sense of misery that hung over the team that day. But each of us must struggle on with our lives in spite of such tragedy. We owe it to all those who have fallen in this terrible war. Jay was persuaded to overcome his grief and convert it into an even greater determination to serve his nation. Hopefully his achievements went some little way towards lifting our spirits and helping us all cope with these tragic events.

With my best wishes to you all,