By Deborah Van Hoewyk
Ardent sports fans among the snowbirds and ex-pats from NORTH North America are often devoted to the sports of the Winter Olympics, fiercely cheering on Team Canada or Team USA in one or another, or all, the 15 different winter events. But did you know, you could also cheer on Team Mexico? And someday soon, or maybe not so soon, you might even be able to cheer on a Mexican curling team?
At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Mexico was represented by a team of 4 – all skiers – decked out in gear that celebrated the Day of the Dead with flowered skulls on a black background.
First a little bit about the guy who designed those racing suits, who is certainly Mexico’s most colorful Olympic athlete. Hubertus Von Hohenlohe-Langenburg, 59, was born in Mexico to parents who happened to be German royalty – his dad, Prince Alfonso of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, who held the Mexican concession for Volkswagen,while his mom, Princess Ira von Fürstenburg, formally known as Virginia Carolina Theresa Pancrazia Galdina Preinzessin zu Fürstenburg, married Prince Alfonso when she was 15. Because of her age, they had to get a papal dispensation; the wedding was the centerpiece of a 16-day party for 400 people. Hubertus was born in Mexico City on February 2, 1959, and the marriage ended in 1960 when the princess ran off with a Brazilian playboy named Francisco “Baby” Pignatari. Another papal dispensation in 1969 finally annulled the Alonso-Ira marriage. The princess was also an actress, a jewelry designer, a PR rep for a European fashion designer – i.e., European socialite.
Hubertus followed in his mom’s footsteps, who in addition to representing Mexico as an Alpine skier, has put in his time as a pop singer known as Andy Himalaya; he’s produced a few pop tunes as well. Not to mention being a businessman, a photographer (he once did a shoot of scantily clad “snow-bunnies” entitled “Ski Instructors”), bon vivant, etc., etc. In another self-produced video, “Undiscovered Streets,” his Andy Himalaya vocals back up nothing but a series of his worst ski crashes. Nonetheless, Hohenlohe has skied for Mexico at six Winter Olympics (1984, 1988, 1992, 1994, 2010, 2014 – in a mariachi-themed racing suit), but has never medaled. He has also represented Mexico in international competitions, putting in 13 seasons in the World Cup races and making 17 teams for the World Championships. Medals? Nope. He skis for Mexico because he believes that the “flame of the exotic countries” needs to be kept alive—those would be the tropical countries with no history of winter sports.
Mexican teams participate in the Olympics, particularly the Summer Olympics—you can read about their success in diving events elsewhere in this issue. In fact Mexico first went to the Summer Olympics in 1900, took a break, and has then participated in every one since 1924. Over the years, Mexico has garnered 69 medals: 13 gold, 24 silver, and 32 bronze. That would be 14 medals in diving; 13 in boxing; 11 in “athletics” (comprising track and field events) ; 7 each in taekwando and equestrian events; 3 in weightlifting; 2 each in swimming, archery, cycling, and polo; and 1 apiece in soccer, basketball, pentathlon, fencing, shooting, and wrestling.
Mexico was the host country for the Summer Olympics in 1968, made noteworthy by one of the most explicit political statements ever to occur at the Olympics, one that could be thought of as an early version of “taking a knee” in the NFL. In the 200-meter race, African-American athletes from Team USA, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, won the gold and bronze medals, respectively (Smith set a world record for the event). The silver medalist was Peter Norman of Australia. All three athletes wore badges representing the Olympic Project for Human Rights; Norman did so to protest his country’s White Australia Policy, a name given after the fact to a series of exclusionary policies to limit non-white immigration. Once the medalists mounted the podium and the US national anthem began, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads, raised their black-gloved fists, and held them up until the anthem concluded. Later, Smith was to say that it was not a black power salute, but a “human rights salute.” Both Smith and Carlos went shoeless, wearing only black socks as a representation of black poverty.
The International Olympic Committee, in the person of its president Avery Brundage (the only American president ever to have presided over the Committee), moved to suspend Smith and Carlos from the US team and evicted from the Olympic Village. The US Olympic committee refused, and Brundage said he would ban the entire team. The US caved, and Smith and Carlos were expelled from the games. Brundage was also president of the International Olympic Committee in 1936, where he notably raised no objection to the Nazi salutes that characterized the Berlin games. He was still in notable sympathy with the Nazis even after World War II began, and, thirty years later, one of the aims of the Olympic Project for Human Rights was to drive him out of office. Smith and Carlos were awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2008 for their action; they served as pallbearers for Norman when he passed away in 2006.
But back to being an exotic country at the Winter Olympics. Mexico has sent a total of 46 athletes to 9 of the winter games: 1928, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1994, 2002, 2010, 2014, 2018. The only ones Hohenlohe missed were 1928 (obviously), 2002, and 2018, that latter being the one for which he designed the Day of the Dead racing suits.
In 1984 (Sarajevo), 1994 (Lillehammer), 2010 (Vancouver), and 2014 (Sochi), the only athlete to represent Mexico was Hubertus Hohenlohe. Because of him, Mexican athletes concentrate on skiing, mostly Alpine skiing – in 2018, Team Mexico competed in the men’s and women’s giant slalom, men’s slalom, women’s super-G (slalom based on speed more than finesse). One person did compete in cross-country skiing (men’s 15 km freestyle) and one in men’s slopestyle (downhill course with obstacles). Like most
Whether Mexico will continue to compete in the Winter Olympics now that Hohenlohe is “aging out” of competition remains to be seen. But wait! Remember curling? Mexican curling? Team Mexico?
It’s out there, struggling to get organized. After a bit of a false start around 2012, the Mexican Federation of Curling has come back to life on Facebook (google Curling México), and on March 12 was looking for support: “This is a grassroots effort to form a national Mexican curling team, open to anyone living anywhere who has eligible Mexican heritage.”
Originally organized by four people with connections to Mexico, one of them actually born in Jalisco, the Mexican Federation of Curling is located in California, but its goal is international competition – including the Winter Games. It has a long road ahead. Isn’t there a Canadian team out there ready to sister up and support their effort?