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Throwback: Senegal’s lone ski star steadily breaks new ground in Sarajevo

8 Feb 1992:  Lamine Gueye of Senegal skis down hill during the men''s downhill during the Olympic Games in Albertville, France. Mandatory Credit: Mike Powell  /Allsport

Feb 14th 1984

Lamine Gueye became the first black African to compete at the Winter Olympics when he took part in the men’s giant slalom at the Sarajevo 1984 Olympic Winter Games.

He had only set up the Senegal Ski Federation five years earlier, becoming its first and only member. “I told them [the International Ski Federation] we were a bunch of skiers,” he said, “but it was just me.”

Gueye, the grandson of a prominent politician who had introduced legislation to give Senegalese nationals the same rights as their French colonial masters, learnt to ski when he was at boarding school in Switzerland.

After a short career as a model and actor – which included a small role in the Bond film Moonraker – he became determined to compete at a Winter Games after watching his hero Franz Klammer on TV.

A few months before the Sarajevo 1984, the International Olympic Committee informed him that he would be allowed to compete. At the Opening Ceremony, he carried the Senegal flag and was the only member of their delegation, sandwiched between the huge teams from the Soviet Union and USA.

“We had no word for downhill in Senegal because we have no mountains. I was afraid and almost threw up. I have fully tested the safety measures and can tell you that they work.”

Gueye entered into three events – the giant slalom, slalom and downhill. The first event up was the giant slalom, in which he became the first black African competitor at an Olympic Winter Games.

He skied very carefully – one journalist described him as “looking like a man with two dead legs pursuing a marauding tortoise” – but made it to the end in one piece, albeit more than 22 seconds behind the leader, Max Julen of Switzertland.

Afterwards he told reporters: “We had no word for downhill in Senegal because we have no mountains. I was afraid and almost threw up. I have fully tested the safety measures and can tell you that they work.”

In the second run he was more than 26 seconds behind Jure Franko of Yugoslavia and almost 48 seconds behind Julen, who claimed gold. It was a chasm for the giant slalom, but he placed a creditable 57th out of 76 finishers, with many more racers falling.

Gueye went on to compete in the slalom (his worst event) and downhill (his best), as well as featuring at both Albertville 1992 and Lillehammer 1994. After retiring he became a passionate campaigner for smaller nations to be allowed representation at the Winter Ganes, as had been the case before 1992.

But he will always be remembered first and foremost as the first black African participant at a Winter Olympics.

 

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