SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Georgian athletes have beaten political wrangling to arrive at the Sochi Olympics a day ahead of the opening ceremony.
An 11-member delegation touched down just after 11 a.m. local time (0700 GMT) Thursday on just the second flight from Tbilisi to nearby Sochi since Georgia and Russia fought a brief war in 2008.
Tension between the countries meant Georgia’s Winter Olympians — three Alpine skiers and a figure skater — could not be certain they would be sent in Sochi.
“It’s a great joy for our athletes to come and participate,” Georgia’s Olympic committee president Leri Khabelov said after the short flight. “I think that relations (between Russia and Georgia) are getting better.”
The skiers landed Thursday, having completed training in Austria this week.
Figure skater Elene Gedevanishvili, who placed 14th at the 2010 Vancouver OIympics, was expected to arrive later from the United States.
“I’m super-excited,” Nino Tsiklauri, who will compete in women’s slalom and giant slalom, told The Associated Press. “I even lose my words when I’m speaking so it’s really cool.”
Tsiklauri said uncertainty over competing had been “kind of a worry.”
“But in the last period, like the last couple of months, we were pretty sure that we were going to come,” she said. “Most of the politicians were thinking it was the Olympic Games and should be totally separate from the politics.”
“I will be the flag bearer so I’m really honored and I’m really proud,” said the 20-year-old Tsiklauri , who is at her second Olympics.
Georgia’s government will not send any officials to the opening ceremony Friday.
Alpine coach Gera Abramishvili is attending his seventh Winter Olympics, having also led the former Soviet Union team of which Georgia was a part until 1991.
“If we place inside the top 30 it will be a big success,” Abramishvili said.
Three-time Olympian Iason Abramashvili placed 29th in men’s giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Games. Teammate Aleksi Beniaidze, who will be making his Olympic debut, marks his 23rd birthday on Saturday.
Tsiklauri has a best finish of 50th in slalom at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Georgia has never won a Winter Olympics medal since first entering an independent team in 1994.