If you are from Ecuador and you live on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, cross-country skiing at the Olympic Winter Games seems a bit far-fetched.
But Klaus Jungbluth Rodriguez has defied the odds to qualify for the Games and will march into Pyeongchang’s Olympic Stadium as Ecuador’s first ever Winter Olympian.
“It’s like you are carrying your whole country in your hands, I’ll do my best to make my country very proud,” Rodriguez said after his first training session in Pyeongchang.
At every Winter Olympics there are competitors from nations that few expect to see in colder climate sports and Ecuador will be one of six nations to make its debut in 2018.
So, what does it mean to be the sole competitor from a country with the eyes of the world watching?
“It’s very overwhelming actually, it’s a big honour and a big responsibility,” Jungbluth admitted.
Jungbluth, 38, is a PhD student at the University of the Sunshine Coast and has spent months in Australia and in Ecuador training on roller skis on the road in a bid to stay fit for the arduous 15-kilometre event.
“I moved to Australia last July, but I needed to continue training. I kept on training on the roller skis to keep up the fitness and the technique,” Jungbluth said.
“I would say they’re very different, you can still keep up the endurance on the roller skis, but you do need the snow. The competitions are on the snow, and you need to adapt to that.”
Jungbluth has managed to spend time in Italy before the Games, but he was been forced to overcome other obstacles as well.
Only a few years ago Ecuador lacked a ski federation, which made Olympic qualification initially impossible.
Undeterred, Jungbluth worked with the Ecuador Olympic Committee to set up a federation, which allowed him to pursue qualification officially.
Jungbluth then had to worry about earning a spot in an Olympic event that is one of the most painful on the Games program.
Committing months to travel over the last few years, the Ecuadorian achieved his goal and hopes to inspire others to pursue their own dreams.
“I think what I’ve tried to do here is to set an example that if you want to achieve a goal, even if it’s difficult or its very far away, you just have to keep trying,” he said.
“That’s an example I want to set for my family, and my kids, but also for the people pursuing a sport in Ecuador.”
Jungbluth has reached the biggest stage of all, with the fans of a nation – or two – cheering him on.
Credit: ABC News (Australia), www.abc.net.au