A cross-country skier from Chelsea, Que., is making history at the 2023 FISU World University Winter Games as the first athlete there to represent Haiti.
When Théo Mallett stepped onto the rink in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Thursday for the opening ceremony, spectators in the stands cheered and applauded.
"It was really special. It was exciting. When I was walking in holding the flag and waving it, like, the crowd just was going crazy," said the 21-year-old, who was both the flag bearer and lone athlete for the Caribbean nation at the international competition.
Mallett's decision to represent Haiti, the country of his birth, may elicit memories of the Jamaican bobsled team at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
What I'm doing by representing Haiti, I mean, it's giving a very positive image on the country. - Théo Mallett, Haitian-Canadian cross-country skier
Yet, Mallett isn't the first athlete to don the Haitian colours in a winter sport.
In 2022, alpine skier Richardson Viano competed for the country at the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
That's where Mallett says he got his inspiration.
"I wanted to be the ... first to represent Haiti in cross-country skiing," he told CBC Radio's In Town and Out.
So, his family did some research and contacted the French-based Fédération Haïtienne de Ski — started by a Haitian expat and a French national — which outlined the criteria he would need to follow to represent the country, including getting his Haitian passport.
As the only competitor from the country, Mallett got to do something most athletes never get the chance to: take an active role in designing the uniform he would display to the world.
Born in Haiti, raised in Canada
Like Viano, Mallett was born in Haiti but later adopted. When he was two-and-a-half, he relocated from a country that never receives snow to Canada, one some might say spends half the year in winter.
As avid skiers, his parents never really gave the youngster an option not to strap on a pair, said his father, Dan Mallett.
When he first arrived in Canada he could barely walk, Dan Mallett recalled, but "a year and a half later, he's enjoying snow on skis."
Théo Mallett eventually joined the Chelsea Nordiq ski club and began racing.
"Since then, I haven't stopped," he said. "And I'm still motivated to keep going and see where it goes."
'Positive image' for country in turmoil
Mallett's participation in the games comes as Haiti has been mired in political turmoil for the last year and a half.
He said he hopes representing Haiti provides some optimism amidst the unrest.
"What I'm doing by representing Haiti, I mean, it's giving a very positive image on the country," he said.
Théo competes in a one-kilometre skate sprint Sunday at 1:30 p.m., a 10-kilometre classic on Tuesday and a 10-kilometre pursuit on Wednesday.