Eighteen-year-old Dominique Ohaco carried Chile’s flag into Sochi’s opening ceremony last week and its dreams onto a snowy Olympic hill early Tuesday.
Chile, whose Andes Mountains are among the greatest ski regions on Earth, has been sending athletes to the Winter Olympics since 1948. But the South American nation has never won a medal. Ohaco, one of six athletes on the country’s winter team, arrived as the best hope for Chile — and perhaps for all of Latin America.
She excels at a new sport geared to her generation: women’s ski slopestyle, which has competitors zipping down the mountain on skis, through a series of obstacles and over a trio of jumps. They’re judged on variety, execution and style.
Ohaco has it. Freestylers are by nature a happy group, prone to grinning into television cameras before and after runs — even those that prove disastrous. Before her first qualifying run Tuesday morning, Ohaco stood at the top of the hill in a bright, lime-green snowsuit, smiled and blew a kiss.
In all, half a dozen Latin America countries sent about 30 athletes to Sochi. They include a Mexican alpine skier known mostly for his Mariachi uniform, and a teenage slopestyler from the United States who was adopted from Paraguay as an infant and chose to compete for her native country. None of the Latin Americans were considered a possibility to medal.
None but Ohaco. She came here ranked among the best in her sport, placing ninth in the ski slopestyle world championship last year in Norway. Given the odd weather conditions this week and the chance that a top-ranked competitor could take a tumble, who knew what she might accomplish?
Ohaco began skiing slopestyle five years ago, after a coach came to her family’s home to persuade her brother to take up the sport. Ohaco decided she wanted to join as well, according to her Olympic biography.
“I started to do this for fun, and then I just went to the World Cups, and I’m here,” she said Tuesday. “It’s nice.”
In recent weeks, she has been featured repeatedly in the Chilean and Latin American media. “I’m happy that all the Chileans are supporting me, so happy,” Ohaco said. She tried not to feel the pressure of a continent. “I’m just enjoying the moment. I’m doing my best.”
Atop the hill, after blowing a kiss to her nation, she was off, dropping in toward her first trick. She skated over the rails, then launched her jumps: a full spin to the right, a spin and a half to the left, and then another one-and-a-half-spin, this time approached while skiing backward.
Ohaco scored a 69.60 on her first qualifying run, putting her in 10th place. Her second run, though, was even lower, a 51.40. Under the rules, that score was tossed out.
“It could be better,” she said after her second qualifying run. She executed a more difficult jump — a “switch 7” — starting down the hill facing backward, spinning two full rotations and then landing backward.
“But I landed a little bit short in the second run, so it wasn’t so good,” she said.
Her popularity was clear, with cheers in the stand and a crew of Latin American reporters waiting to talk with her.
Warm weather has been an issue in the mountains here, and Tuesday’s temperature of about 40 degrees Fahrenheit left the snow soft. On a day when one skier after another crashed, Ohaco was pleased that she stayed on her skies. But would it be enough?
“I don’t know, really,” she said, watching the scoreboard overhead. “I’m looking right now, how are the other girls.”
Twelve of them were better, leaving Ohaco in 13th place and just out of the finals by a single point, and out of medal contention.
But her competitors expect to see her back.
“Dominique’s a great girl,” said the United States’ Devin Logan, 20, the eventual silver medalist. “She’s learning super-fast. The runs she’s putting down and the tricks she’s learning at such a high, fast pace are awesome. Unfortunately she just missed out. Watch out for her.”