Students At Sochi

Monday, 24 March, 2014

Illustration by Cameron Baker

With its ginormous mountains, wacky uniforms, extravagant arenas and continuous controversies, this year’s Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia, sometimes felt a million miles away from Melbourne. But that’s not entirely the case. This year, two University of Melbourne students proudly donned the green and gold to represent Australia and achieve their Olympic dreams on the snowy Sochi slopes.

25-year-old ski cross racer and Masters of Property student, Katya Crema, couldn’t have been happier with her experience. “Representing Australia in my second Olympic Games was an amazing feeling,” she tells me. “I came into Sochi with a completely different approach to Vancouver. This time around, being my second Olympics and with a few extra years of experience, the focus was all about the race.”

Meanwhile, it was the first time at an Olympics for 20-year-old freestyle mogul skier and Bachelor of Environments student, Brodie Summers. “I was immensely proud to wear the Aussie colours on the biggest sporting stage in the world,” he says. Summers names the Closing Ceremony as a particular highlight, calling the event “the most surreal experience I’ve ever had.”

While many of us spent last year locked up in the Baillieu on a diet of salted caramel crepes, coffee and Facebook procrastination, these two trained intensely all over the world in preparation for competition. Summers lists Sydney, Mt Buller, Canada’s Whistler, Steamboat Springs in the USA, and Switzerland as his training locations. He emphasises the work ethic and commitment involved in his intense moguls preparation, from strength and conditioning to water ramping. Similarly, Crema’s training for Sochi was a four-year process. “On-snow training consists of basic skiing skills and drills, gates training, jumping in the terrain park, free skiing, starts and obviously ski cross course specific training,” she explains. “Off-snow training out of the ski season is almost more time-consuming than on-snow training. In the lead up to the Games in the off-season, I was doing 12 dry-land sessions per week.”

Finishing 13th in the men’s moguls finals at Sochi, Summers was thrilled to be on the team. “My expectations going into the Games were simply to ski to the best of my ability,” he says. “I had only qualified to be there [at the Games] at the last World Cup of the season just a few weeks beforehand. Just being there was the best motivation for me to work as hard as I can to make sure I’m standing on that podium four years from now in Korea.”

Crema also did incredibly well, with a seventh place result in the women’s ski cross. “I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself at important races like the Olympic Games or World Championships. I seem to perform better,” she says. “Even with a shaky start to the season after a knee injury in the first World Cup in November, my goal was a top 8 result. My world ranking coming into the Games was 20th, so you definitely couldn’t say I was a favourite. I feel like I gave it my absolute best effort on the day, and finished with a 7th place result. It is extremely satisfying to come home having achieved my goal.”

As for the quirks of their time in the ever-controversial country, the athletes’ memories of the St Tropez of Russia are nothing but positive. Although admitting he was probably in a bit of a security bubble, Summers maintained that the Sochi infrastructure “was a great investment … and a great show for the world to see. I hope it boosts the appeal of winter sport for people around Australia.”

Crema agrees. “Russia put on an incredible event. Sochi was the first Winter Olympics in a very long time to host every single snow event on the same mountain. The competition venues were world-class.”

While Crema mentions activities such as babushka doll painting as a fun introduction to Russian culture in the Olympic Village, Summers speaks particularly fondly of another aspect of their accommodation. “I think the standout part of the village was the McDonald’s … I have never eaten so much McDonald’s in my life!” he laughs. “Definitely a popular place for athletes to go after their events—don’t tell our coaches!”

Spots in the Olympic team are undeniably competitive, but Summers is adamant he’ll be back for the next Winter Games held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “Competing in Sochi was an incredibly motivating experience for me. I want to make sure I use the next four years as best I can so that when I arrive in Pyeongchang in 2018 I am ready to win a medal.” As for Crema? She’s planning on taking a well-earned season off to focus on her Masters here at Melbourne before tackling the upcoming World Cup winter.

World-class athletes studying among us? We couldn’t be more proud.