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Venezuelan banker unfazed by crash

By Alan Baldwin

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Venezuelan Olympic Alpine skier Antonio Jose Pardo Andretta is a banker and former stockbroker who says he just wants to make people happy.

The 43-year-old's Swiss wife thinks he is insane, but for entirely different reasons.

Both agree he will never be mistaken for compatriot Pastor Maldonado, the Formula One driver who actually wins races.

On Wednesday, Pardo Andretta wrote himself into his country's Olympic history when he left the giant slalom start hut to become Venezuela's first Alpine skier to compete at a Winter Games.

The moment of glory was shortlived.

Starting 109th in a field of 109, he soon shed a ski and took a headlong dive into the snow - adopting what can only be described as a snowplough position before beating the piste with his poles in frustration.

"It was not my fault," he told Reuters later. "One of the skis just fell off. If it was my fault, well...nothing I can do. But something that really doesn't belong to me is kind of upsetting.

"But I feel happy. If I did my best performance I would not have won anyway.

"I am disappointed I wake up so many people at three in the morning to watch me and they only watched me for a few seconds. But at least they can go back to sleep," the Venezuelan added by way of apology to any compatriots who had turned on their TV sets to watch him.

Pardo Andretta, who is also head of the Venezuelan ski federation, said he had always wanted to compete in the Olympics but it was only when his career as a broker in Venezuela hit the skids that it became a serious consideration.

ROBIN HOOD

A meeting with Hubertus von Hohenlohe, who is competing for Mexico in his sixth Games at the age of 55, only spurred him on and the two are now firm friends. If Mexico could do it, so could Venezuela.

"I think you are never too old to fulfill your dreams. Whenever you can you can make your dreams come true. I do my best. If you keep in shape, why not"," said the Venezuelan.

"It was always in my mind that I wanted to make the Olympics, I didn't want to get to 60 or 70 and say to myself I could have been in the Olympics and I never tried. At least I wanted to try."

Arriving at the Sochi Games, he was surprised to read erroneous reports of how he had undergone surgery for a brain tumor at the age of eight, with the banker confused for a compatriot competing in para-cross country skiing.

He says there is nothing wrong with his head, although clearly that has been the source of some matrimonial disagreement.

"My wife doesn't think that. She says 'You're insane to come to the Olympics at 43,'" grinned the skier.

The Venezuelan now spends half the year in Switzerland and is a regular on the exclusive pistes of Gstaad or Adelboden. The family normally spend Christmas in Zermatt.

The banker lifestyle might set him apart from his compatriots but he said he wanted, through the Olympics, to "just bring happiness to people and try to make the dream come true."

He grinned when it was suggested that it did not sound like very banker-like behavior.

"That's true. Maybe I am a Robin Hood," he replied.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Martyn Herman.)

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