Where EAST meets the Northwest
HOT WEATHER, COOL SKIER. East Timor’s Yohan Goutt Goncalves skies during the
alpine skiing men’s giant slalom at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, northern
Japan, on February 22, 2017. Goutt Goncalves could have taken part in the Alpine
skiing world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, but chose instead to
travel to Japan to become East Timor’s first athlete at the Asian Winter Games.
(AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #5 (March 6, 2017), page 8.
Asian Winter Games: Very topical in tropical East Timor
By Jim Armstrong
The Associated Press
SAPPORO, Japan — For Alpine skier Yohan Goutt Goncalves, the chance to be
East Timor’s sole representative at the Asian Winter Games was too good to pass
up, even if it meant missing the world championships.
Goutt Goncalves could have taken part in the Alpine skiing world
championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, but chose instead to travel to Japan
to become East Timor’s first athlete at the Asian Winter Games.
"It was more important to come here because East Timor is part of Asia,"
Goutt Goncalves said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Timorese people
feel closer to the Asian Games than any other event — even the Winter Olympics —
so that’s why I chose to come here."
Born in France, 22-year-old Goutt Goncalves is the son of a French father and
a mother from East Timor, the tiny former Portuguese colony between Australia
He qualified for the world circuit in 2013 and had no trouble deciding which
country to represent when it came to choosing between France and East Timor.
East Timor’s National Olympic Committee was only established in 2007, and two
athletes have competed at the Summer Games in 2004, 2008, and 2012.
"My dream of representing Timor came when I was eight," Goutt Goncalves said.
"I wanted to go to the Olympics and I knew it was for Timor because I think it
was important to show to the world that there is this country. I think that the
contrast of having an athlete that skis but is from a country with no snow makes
Goutt Goncalves’ childhood dream came true when he competed at the Sochi
"It was so challenging to get there," Goutt Goncalves said, recalling his
route to become the first athlete from East Timor to compete at the Winter
Olympics. "And when I arrived there you raise the flag of Timor in the opening
ceremony. It’s the first time in the Winter Olympics so there was a lot of
attention on you because people are wondering ‘where is this country? Do they
have snow? Do they have mountains?’"
Now he has his sights set on qualifying for an Olympic return, this time
closer to home in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"I want to participate in more international events so people get to know
Timor better," Goutt Goncalves said.
Many of Goutt Goncalves’ family members live in Australia, where he has based
himself for southern hemisphere winter training the past several years.
Goutt Goncalves first hit the ski slopes in his father Pierre’s backpack when
he was a year old, and skied for the first time when he was three.
East Timor was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century and declared its
independence in 1975. Indonesia invaded East Timor within weeks and a violent
In 1999, following intervention from the United Nations, Indonesia
relinquished control of the territory and East Timor became a sovereign state on
May 20, 2002. The country’s political situation has become more stable in recent
"Right now it is pretty peaceful, the last civil war was in 2006," Goutt
Goncalves said. "Since then nothing major has happened so I hope tourists will
come to Timor."
In 1974, Goutt Goncalves’ mother, Carolina, and her young siblings boarded a
fishing boat in the capital, Dili, and set sail for Darwin, the remote capital
of Australia’s Northern Territory. Despite being overcrowded, the boat and its
500-plus passengers arrived safely, and the family was granted refugee status.
For now, Goutt Goncalves said he is happy to be able to take his campaign to
raise awareness of his country to the slopes.
"My uncles that still live in Timor fought during the occupation," Goutt
Goncalves said. "They were present and in the resistance so I think in my own
way I am fighting for my country in a more joyful way."
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