Jonathan Lourimi: Winter Youth Olympic medallist wants to make more history for Tunisia

Bobsledder speaks to The National about his journey, hopes and dreams after historic silver medal at Gangwon Winter Youth Olympics

Meet Tunisia's first Winter Youth Olympics medalist Jonathan Lourimi

Meet Tunisia's first Winter Youth Olympics medalist Jonathan Lourimi
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Two years ago, 17-year-old Tunisian athlete Jonathan Lourimi did not know what bobsleigh was, living his life like any other teenager and playing football for a local team in his city.

However, everything changed when he received a call asking him to join a list of promising athletes from countries with little to no snow, to train in winter sports with the aim of competing internationally and eventually joining the next Winter Olympic Games.

That one call led Lourimi to earn Tunisia’s first ever Winter Youth Olympics medal in Gangwon South Korea last month – making history as one of the first African and Arab athletes to achieve such a result at the Games.

Speaking to The National from his home in Stockholm – only a few weeks after his win – Lourimi described the sensational feeling he had when he realised that he is now an Olympic medal-winner.

“I still can’t believe it, when I look back, and that feeling when I went through the finish line and realised that I’ve done it and got a medal, it was an amazing feeling,” he recalled.

Lourimi took home the silver medal after finishing 1.33 seconds behind winner So Kaehwan of South Korea and followed by Chi Xiangyu from China. Lourimi said he was even more overwhelmed when he saw the reaction not only of his family and the Tunisian Olympic Committee but also that of non-Tunisian fans and competitors who were genuinely happy for him.

“Everybody was happy for Tunisia because it was a small country and wanted to lift it up,” he added.

A 'crazy' journey filled with sacrifices

Lourimi described his journey towards the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics as a “crazy” one.

“It’s a crazy story, two years ago I did not know what bobsleigh was, I had heard of it but I did not know what it was and how you compete in it,” he explained.

“I got a call from the Tunisian [Olympic] Federation to join a camp in [South] Korea for athletes from countries that did not have snow to try winter sports.”

Lourimi said that on joining the camp he tried out various winter sports and initially focused on Alpine skiing, which he had tried before, but later on, as his performance in bobsleigh improved, his focus shifted towards it.

“As I got more results in the qualifications process, a lot of people started turning their heads and were like maybe there is a new candidate for the podium at the Olympic Games,” he said.

Like many people, Lourimi did not know much about bobsleigh when he started learning the sport a year ago, but once he came to realise that he had the exact skills required to excel, it became a much more enjoyable and thrilling experience for him.

“Before even going there I was really strong and fast but combined [strength and speed] I was really good at it, I was able to push the sled and I had great times and results,” he said.

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

Lourimi said that he was not necessarily focused on winning and instead just wanted to enjoy his first appearance at the Winter Youth Olympics.

“I said it a lot of times, when I was there [in Gangwon] competing I was not thinking about any medals in the Olympics, I did not think of the results before I was sliding, I only thought about having fun and enjoying the [bobsleigh] track … I had to make it count,” he said.

For the first time in its history, Tunisia sent a team of three bobsledders to the Winter Olympics. The team included Lourimi as well as 15-year-olds Sophie Ghorbal and Beya Mokrani.

Inspiring a new generation of athletes

Born in Stockholm to a Tunisian father and Polish mother, Lourimi has always had a keen eye for sports since a very young age.

Starting with ice hockey at the age of six and then football later in his teenage years, sports have always been present in Lourimi’s life, and made his dreams of a professional path in it grow, even if that would mean making several sacrifices.

“I worked for many hours and I did not have time for anything else, it was just me, the gym and my coach, day in and day out, and only focused on improving little by little,” he said

Because he loves what he’s doing, Lourimi says that he does not feel bad for missing out on what other people his age are doing, because while others probably enjoy spending their time playing video games, his avid love for sports and bobsleigh make this journey more important to him.

Now, the young athlete says he is far from being done and his main aim is to continue to practise bobsleigh professionally and, most importantly, to bring pride to his native country, Tunisia.

“I want to make more history for Tunisia. Sports is my main thing. I want to continue and qualify for the 2026 Olympics, it’s my main goal and I will work hard for it,” he added.

As for his message to other Tunisian and Arab athletes, Lourimi underscored that aspiration is the key to excellence in any sport, regardless of where you come from.

“For the Tunisian youth out there, dream and aspire really big, do it and try winter sports because it is possible. You've seen now that it is possible that Tunisians can get medals,” he said.

“It does not matter what anyone says to you because everybody told me that it’s not possible to get a medal, but I got a medal because I knew that if I worked hard and enjoyed the sport, then it’s possible.”

Updated: May 02, 2024, 8:32 AM