It’s been 20 years since Puerto Rico competed in the Winter Olympics, but 17-year-old alpine skier Charles Flaherty just broke that trend.
Carrying Puerto Rico’s flag at the 2018 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in PyeongChang, South Korea, Flaherty beamed as the first representative for Puerto Rico at the Games since 1998, when it sent another alpine skier and two-man and four-man bobsled teams to Nagano, Japan.
But Puerto Rico stopped competing at the Winter Olympics when a member if its 2002 bobsled team was deemed ineligible to compete by the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee and the team was withdrawn. The Puerto Rico Olympic Committee then withdrew its recognition of its Winter Sports Federation, making athletes intending to represent Puerto Rico ineligible to compete.
However, the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee created a temporary, six-month acknowledgement of the Winter Sport Federation to allow Flaherty to compete this year. Originally from Ohio, Flaherty moved to Puerto Rico in 2010 and trains elsewhere, according to People.
The athlete, who marched at the Opening Ceremony Feb. 9 with his coach and two officials, told People he hopes the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee will continue recognize the Winter Sports Federation to make way for more athletes to compete at the Games.
“There are definitely other people out there who are eligible to go for Puerto Rico, and we want to help give them the opportunity,” Flaherty told People.
One of those athletes includes skier Kristina Krone, who had qualified for the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics but did not compete as a result of the Olympic Committee’s policy.
Puerto Rico’s representation at the Olympics comes just months after the island was devestated by Hurricane Maria