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Olympic Outliers

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Formidable Formosan? Taiwan's only athlete at the 2006 Turin and 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, 24-year-old luger Chih-Hung Ma has been described as a prodigy by his European coaches. Ma's skill is even more impressive considering that his hometown of Pingtung never approaches freezing temperatures. Taiwan doesn't seem the most likely country for an Olympic luger, but China's successful efforts to have Taiwan banned from many more popular sporting events encouraged the island to think outside the box. Chinese pressure has also led to Taiwan competing under the country name of Chinese Taipei in many international competitions. Above, Ma trains for the 2006 Olympics in Cesana Pariol, Italy, on Feb. 9, 2006.

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Ghanaian snow leopard: Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong is perhaps the least likely of alpine skiers, having skied for the first time only five years ago. Ghana's first-ever competitor at a Winter Olympics -- who is nicknamed the "Snow Leopard" -- grew up an hour from Accra in a climate that rarely saw temperatures lower than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Upon returning to Britain for

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Turkish delight: Turkey's first Olympic figure skater, Tugba Karademir, looks to build upon her 21st-place finish four years ago at the Turin games. A skater from age 5 -- after the first ice rink opened in her hometown of Ankara -- Karademir's family moved to Canada when she was 12 in hopes of better training facilities. It paid off: Karademir won numerous youth trophies and made the Canadian Junior National Team, but she resigned her place to represent her native Turkey. Above, Karademir performs in the ladies short program during Skate America in Everett, Wash., on Oct. 26, 2008.

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Out of Africa: A native of Addis Ababa, Robel Teklemariam moved with his family to New York City in 1983 with no idea that he would become Ethiopia's first winter Olympian. But a summer at a boarding school in Lake Placid, N.Y., (site of the 1980 winter Olympics) instilled in Teklemariam a love of skiing. A graduate of the University of New Hampshire, which he attended on a full athletic scholarship, he single-handedly created Ethiopia's national ski federation so he could compete in the 2006 Turin Olympics. This year, he's back for cross-country skiing. Above, Teklemariam trains on snow (instead of his usual Ethiopian asphalt) in Pragelato, Italy, on Feb. 9, 2006.

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Cool skiings: Errol Kerr of Jamaica has been compared to record-holding Jamaican Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt and the famous 1988 Jamaican bobsled team depicted in the movie Cool Runnings. Kerr will be competing in the new ski cross event, and he predicts a feel-good moment, telling the Sacramento Bee: "I honestly feel like I could go out and win Vancouver." Above, Kerr (in red bib and green shirt) races in the Visa Freestyle International at the Deer Valley resort in Utah on Feb. 2, 2008.

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Israelis on ice: Israel's Roman Zaretsky and Alexandra "Sasha" Zaretsky are siblings competing in ice dancing. Israel is not known for winter sports: It has one skiable mountain (Mount Hermon) and one major skating rink. It's not surprising then that the country has only been sending teams to the Winter Olympics since 1994 and has never won a winter medal. Lack of infrastructure hasn't been the siblings' only obstacle: In 2008 they were allegedly barred from practicing at a New Jersey arena due to their Israeli nationality. Above, they compete in the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 21 in Tallinn, Estonia.

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Gender bender: Iran has been competing in the Winter Olympics since 1956, but the country has never sent a woman to the games -- until this year. Alpine skier Marjan Kalhor will be the first female Iranian winter Olympian and will also be the flag bearer for the Iranian team. At the Olympics, Kalhor won't be making any political statements by violating the Islamic Republic's strict dress code. She told Agence France-Presse, "Skiing is a sport which needs you to be fully clothed. So as far as the uniform for the competition goes, there is no problem -- I'll observe the Islamic dress code." Above, Kalhor takes a break in Diz, Iran, on Feb. 4.

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Going downhill: Cypriot Christopher Papamichalopoulos takes a spill during a giant slalom qualification run in Are, Sweden, on Feb. 12, 2007. Christopher and sister Sophia Papamichalopoulo are alpine skiers and the sole athletes set to represent Cyprus in Vancouver. The head of the Cyprus Ski Federation told Neos Kosmos, "We have modest targets; we are not a ski nation, but what we want to achieve in the male category is to get a better result in the rankings and reduce the difference in the time between the gold medal."

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Cedar skier: Chirine Njeim was born in Lebanon but left her parents at age 14 to train in France. At 16, she moved to Salt Lake City to continue training. Now 24, she is competing in her third Olympics as an alpine skier representing Lebanon. Njeim's situation is not especially unique for athletes whose home country lacks the climate or infrastructure to support their training; many move near winter training centers in the United States or Europe while keeping their citizenship with their home country. Above, Njeim barrels down the mountain during the women's super-G at the Turin Olympics on Feb. 20, 2006.

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High expectations: Brazilian snowboarder Isabel Clark Ribeiro, whose country will be hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics, launches into the air during the FIS Snowboard World Cup qualifiers on Dec. 18, 2009. It is very hard for Latin American athletes to qualify for the Winter Olympics; having no regional or continental qualifying rounds, they must compete with and place highly against some of the top athletes from Europe, Asia, and North America. Most of these "outlier" Olympians aren't expecting a medal at these games -- but in many cases they won't need one to make history.

Check out other FP photo essays:

?Bricks for Bread and Milk

?"I Am So Happy He's Not Dead"

?Afghanistan's Ultimate Sport

?My Trip to GTMO

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