Shortly before Christmas the French born Alpine skier Elise Pelegrin qualified for the Sochi Winter Olympics. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal but Pelegrin has Maltese ancestry and elected to compete for Malta at the beginning of the 2012-2013 season. Out of 49 European nations currently affiliated with the IOC, Malta is the only one yet to make an appearance at the Winter Games. Barring unforeseen circumstances this will change in February and, for the first time, all the eligible European countries will be present in Sochi.
Of the 16 nations that competed at the inaugural Winter Olympics in 1924 fourteen were European including powerhouse nations Austria and Norway but also lesser lights like Belgium and Hungary.
Germany, banned from the Games following World War I, debuted alongside the Netherlands in 1928 and more Mediterranean nations followed in 1936. A slow trickle of new nations followed post-WW2 until the changes in Eastern Europe saw the emergence into Olympic competition of a flood of ex-Soviet and ex-Yugoslav nations from 1992 onwards.
European nations to compete at the Winter Olympics are, in order of debut;
1924 – Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Great Britain, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Yugoslavia.
1928 – Estonia, Germany, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania
1936 – Bulgaria, Spain, Greece, Liechtenstein, Turkey
1948 – Denmark, Iceland
1952 – Portugal
1956 – Soviet Union
1968 – West Germany, East Germany
1976 – Andorra, San Marino
1980 – Cyprus
1984 – Monaco
1992 – Croatia, Ireland, Slovenia
1994 – Armenia, Georgia, Czech Republic, Israel, Moldova, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Bosnia
1998 – Azerbaijan, Serbia and Montenegro, FYR Macedonia,
2006 – Albania
2010 – Serbia, Montenegro
2014 – Malta
Outside the mainstream nations cross-country skiers from Greenland regularly compete for Denmark and a snowboarder from the Isle of Man has represented Great Britain.
Will there be any additions to this list? That depends on politics. The next debutants might be Kosovo? Or Scotland? Perhaps the Basque Country or Catalonia? We’ll just have to wait and see – although the clever bet is that it might be a while before we see a snowboarder from the Vatican City nailing a Rippey flip at the Olympics.