Picture of Puerto Rico Olympic Team
Credit: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea has begun! And this year, there’s very good news for one small island in the Carribean. For the first time in 20 years, there will be a Puerto Rico Olympic team at the Winter Games. Now hold up, you might be thinking. Isn’t Puerto Rico a U.S. territory? And doesn’t the United States already have an Olympic Team? So, why don’t those athletes join Team USA? The answer is a little complicated.

Let’s break down why there’s a Puerto Rico Olympic team this year. To participate in the Olympics, all you need is to get your National Olympic Committee recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). While the criteria upheld by the IOC are strict, the rules that determine WHO can form a national committee are much less so. The Olympic Charter defines a country as “independent State recognized by the international community.” And the IOC recognized Puerto Rico as a country in 1948. (If you think back to your high school history class, you may recall that PR didn’t become affiliated with the U.S. until 1898.) So there you have it, folks. That’s why there’s a Puerto Rico Olympic team in the 2018 Winter Games.

17-year-old Charles Flaherty is representing Puerto Rico at the 2018 Olympics.

But there’s more to the story.

Remember when we said this is the first Winter Olympics that Puerto Rico will participate in over the last 20 years? Well, in 2002, Puerto Rico withdrew from the Winter Olympics when a member of its bobsled team was not allowed to compete. The Puerto Rican Olympic Committee then ceased recognition of its Winter Sports Federation entirely. But this year, the PROC granted a temporary acknowledgment of the Winter Sports Federation. This will allow Flaherty to ski at the games this year.

Other small territories have also earned “Olympic independence” in the past. Including the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1967, Guam in 1986, and American Samoa in 1987, to name a few. Hopefully, this will bring more Puerto Rican athletes to the Winter Olympics in the future!