Lebanon’s Jackie Chamoun insisted her mind was solely on skiing Friday as she competed in the Olympic slalom, days after footage of a topless photo shoot caused an uproar at home.
The 22-year-old finished 47th place and said she had received plenty of support from people in Sochi and in her home country.
Last week, video footage emerged online of a three-year-old photo shoot that showed the skier posing topless in bikini bottoms, ski boots and skis in Lebanon’s Faraya mountains.
The images sparked a flap in the culturally conservative country, including a ministerial demand for an investigation.
But Chamoun said the scandal back home was of no importance as she took part in her second Winter Olympics.
“Seriously, I didn’t think about that at all today. I was here, happy to do the race and I was focussed,” said the trim skier.
“I mean, it happened but I put this to the side for the moment and I just focused on my race. I’m happy to be here, I cannot think about something else right now. (The race) is the best thing you can think about, you just have to focus.
“Small things are not going to disturb me even if it was a big story in my country. I just continue, it’s not a big obstacle.”
The photographer behind the risque shoot, Hubertus von Hohenlohe — who will compete in the men’s slalom on Saturday — had defended the pictures on Thursday.
“I don’t think the photos are offensive. It’s a shame because I believe we did nothing wrong,” he told AFP.
Despite the initial outcry, Chamoun said plenty of people had expressed their support for her.
– Lots of messages of support –
“I got a lot of messages from Lebanese people on Facebook, on social media, just telling me: ‘We don’t need your medal, we don’t need you to win, we’re just glad that you represent the country and you do it very well’.”
“So a lot of them are proud of me and are happy to see me here.”
Members of Lebanon’s Olympic committee and ski federation, as well as friends, also came to see her race, “so it’s nice to see Lebanese supporters in the crowd”.
Chamoun, wearing a white catsuit with pink webbing, a light blue helmet and fluorescent yellow goggles, raced in 87th place and was the last one down the rutted Rosa Khutor course in the first run.
But she punched the air on arrival and beamed at the crowd as if her time of 1min 16.05sec — a full 23.43sec behind eventual winner Mikaela Shiffrin — was enough for gold.
“I always do (that) when I finish a run at world championships or Olympics,” she said.
“It’s a great feeling just to be able to participate in these events so crossing the finish line is even better and I like to show my due to everyone.”
With 25 racers failing to make it down the course first time out, Chamoun finished third from last, ahead of South Korean Kang Young-Seo and Iran’s Forough Abbasi.
“But I did my best, at least I finished the run. It’s just the best feeling to cross the finish line.”
She went on to clock 1:12.69 in the second run, finishing 47th and 44.20sec off Shiffrin’s electric pace as a further 11 racers bombed out.
On her left wrist Chamoun wore two colourful bands, proclaiming “Live love Beirut” and “Live love Lebanon”.
“I’m just wearing them to show everyone that I’m proud to be Lebanese,” said the skier.