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Cincinnati-born teen gives his all for Puerto Rico in Olympic giant slalom

Charles Flaherty determined but outmatched
Posted at 12:17 AM, Feb 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-18 07:13:13-05

CINCINNATI - OK, they don’t give Olympic medals to skiers who finished in 73rd place, but Charles Flaherty,  a Cincinnati native competing for Puerto Rico, should count it as a victory anyway.

When he competed in the giant slalom Saturday night, the 17-year-old became the first Winter Olympian to represent Puerto Rico since 1998 and did the island proud at a time when it’s still recovering from Hurricane Maria's crushing blow last September.

"This is what Puerto Rico really needs right now," his mother Ann Flaherty told WCPO last week. "We're so happy he can be a little ray of hope for the island."

Flaherty was outmatched against the world’s top skiers and he knew it. But he was eager for the experience. In an interview with People before the Games, he said his goal in Pyeongchang didn't necessarily involve a medal. Instead, it involved opening the door for other Puerto Rican athletes to represent the island in winter sports.


Flaherty was born in Cincinnati but moved to Puerto Rico with his family in 2010.

"I've never looked back. It's an amazing place, I'm really proud to call it home," Flaherty told People.  "I'm really proud they're letting me represent them. It's a great experience. I'm really thankful."

Flaherty's parents and brother went to South Korea to be sure he would have a cheering section.

Wondering why Charles competed for Puerto Rico?

It might seem confusing, but the place of one's birth does not always govern which country they represent in the Olympics. Charles Flaherty was eligible to represent Puerto Rico because he has lived there for more than three years. The Olympic Charter requires only that an athlete be a "national" of the country for which he or she is competing.

Flaherty didn't finish first but he didn't finish last, either.

While three dozen skiers dropped out or wiped out in the mountain's twists and turns, Flaherty skied his heart out and completed both of his runs, though at a slower pace. He finished a combined 38 seconds behind the gold-medal winner, Marcel Hirsher of Austria.

SEE the times and final standings.

But Flaherty's mother believes he has the skill and determination to be able to compete some day.

"He's a natural athlete," she said, adding that he started skiing in 2009 during a family vacation. "He's got so much passion and drive; that's what I think has made him successful. He's the first one on the hill in the morning, last one off the hill at the end of training."

Charles begins his days before dawn, she said, often stargazing as he rides the ski lift to practice. According to her, he hopes to go into astrophysics or aeronautical engineering in the future -- two difficult career paths that seem more achievable in light of his indomitable work ethic and 4.1 GPA.

While in South Korea, Flaherty's family spent their time watching other Olympic competitors and meeting another Cincinnati family that made international news: Fred and Cindy Warmbier, with whom they had dinner one night.