While the Nigerian women’s bobsled team makes headlines at the 2018 Winter Olympics, UVM first-year student Connor Wilson is quietly taking his own place in the pantheon of unlikely Olympians. The lone athlete representing his native South Africa in PyeongChang, Wilson will compete in the slalom and giant slalom skiing events.
Days before departing Burlington for South Korea, Wilson reflected on the momentous weeks ahead. “It is a big race, what I’ve been leading up to my whole life,” he says with a clipped, South African accent. “Every single ounce of effort I’ve put into ski racing is now in a few minutes of ski racing at the Olympics. And those minutes are going to count more than my past years of ski racing, all of them combined.”
As for the spotlight on a one-man team marching into the Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremonies, Wilson adds, “Although I’ll be walking alone, it is going to be one of the proudest moments of my life. I think that’s what every athlete dreams for, to carry their country’s flag.”
Wilson’s journey to the Olympics started fifteen years ago, at age five, when he snapped into a pair of bindings for the first time on a family trip to the ski slopes of Sun Valley, Idaho. A couple of years living in the United States, due to his grandmother’s illness, brought Wilson to Deerfield, Massachusetts, where he tried racing with a school team. “I was sold,” he says.
Training back in South Africa, though, not so simple as New England. His options were the Tiffindel Ski Resort in the Eastern Cape or Afriski Mountain Resort in neighboring Lesotho. Long drives and lots of man-made snow, but Wilson kept at it, competing on his home continent, in Europe and the United States to build his International Ski Federation points up to the Olympic standard.
When Wilson considered higher education options in the United States, he was very familiar with Vermont since his mother and brother both graduated from Middlebury College. But his focus on a pre-veterinary medicine major and the appeal of Burlington steered him to UVM. He’s found a solid home on campus in the Wellness Environment and a family of fellow athletes on the slopes with the Mount Mansfield Ski Club. His routine: train in the morning, classes in the afternoon, study in the evening.
Post-Olympics, Wilson has his eye on another prize right back at his home university. As he continues to progress as a skier, he hopes to earn a place on the Vermont varsity team, a program that has earned six NCAA Championships. As he says of the Olympics, the same might be said for this next mountain on the horizon: “Always a new experience. Skiing takes you places you never thought you would go.”
Watch for Wilson Wednesday, Feb. 21 as he competes in the Men's Slalom, 8 p.m. EST on NBC. See a full list of UVM Olympians' events.