Tunisia's Jonathan Lourimi wins historic silver at Gangwon Winter Youth Olympics

North African country participating in its first ever Winter Games

Tunisia's Jonathan Lourimi won silver in men's bobsleigh at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Gangwon, South Korea. Photo: OIS / IOC
Powered by automated translation

Tunisia’s Jonathan Lourimi earned his country’s first ever Winter Youth Olympics medal in bobsleigh, finishing 1.33 seconds behind winner So Kaehwan of South Korea and followed by Chi Xiangyu from China.

The 17-year-old athlete, whose father is Tunisian and mother Swedish, qualified for the Winter Youth Olympics – taking place in Gangwon, South Korea – after finishing first at a qualification race that took place in Pyeongchang last November.

Speaking after his win, Lourimi expressed his thrill over the historic achievement.

“I never thought this was possible when I started with this sport one year ago. And now I'm here with a silver medal. It's crazy. And yeah, I'm just going to enjoy the moment,” he told Olympics.com.

Lourimi said that he was not necessarily aiming for a medal and instead was focused on enjoying his first appearance at the event.

“Today, just the race, I just didn't focus on any medals or any times. I just wanted to enjoy the time, as I have been doing in training.”

He was also excited about the opportunity to meet people from around the world.

As for his future goals, Lourimi said he will turn his attention to competing at the 2026 Winter Olympics.

“My goal is to be in the real Olympics,” he added. “So I am going to work hard for that, I will enjoy this moment for some weeks, and then keep on the hard work.”

Tunisia have sent a team of three bobsledders for the first time. The team includes Lourimi and 15-year-olds Sophie Ghorbal and Beya Mokrani.

“No one knows bobsleigh and winter sports in Tunisia. I introduced the sport and the culture to our country. It's great to have new opportunities for a country that doesn't have any snow,” Ghorbal said last Friday.

Bobsleigh is a sport invented by the Swiss in the 1860s in which teams or individuals race down narrow, twisted, frozen tracks on a sled.

Speaking to The National, Lourimi's coach and co-ordinator of the Tunisia Winter Youth Olympic Games Committee, called the win beyond “imaginable”.

“We would never have imagined that we will be participating let alone win in these games in front of major European competitors,” Iheb Ayed said.

Mr Ayed credited Lourimi's calm demeanour and high level of sportsmanship for his historic win.

“I would always say that he is like [football player] Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] for being always calm,” he said.

According to Mr Ayed, Tunisia's team participation and entire training process has been fostered and fully sponsored by the South Korean Pyeongchang 2018 Legacy Foundation.

Thanks to this sponsorship, Lourimi and his teammates travelled more than nine times abroad to receive training in South Korea as well as Norway, Austria and the US.

He added that Lourimi's choosing to participate in the Winter Olympic Games carrying the Tunisian flag is thanks to his mother.

“Jonathan is also an ice hockey player. In 2014, his mother sent me his picture in an ice ring saying that she hopes one day her son would play for Tunisia's ice hockey team,” he said.

Years later, when Mr Ayed made a Facebook post looking for athletes to join the team that would be representing Tunisia in the Olympics, Lourimi's mother liked and commented on the post.

Through that post, Mr Ayed was put in touch with Lourimi and he was eventually recruited to the Tunisia team.

Updated: January 23, 2024, 6:42 PM