Ellina Mhlanga Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE will for the first time next year, be involved in the Winter Olympic Games scheduled for Sochi, Russia, as one athlete Luke Henri Steyn has already been short-listed in the discipline of men’s Alpine Skiing.
The Games will be held from February 7 to 23, in Sochi, with participants competing in seven sporting disciplines, namely Biathlon, Bobsleigh, Curling, Ice Hockey, Luge, Skating and Skiing.
The Federation of International Skiing uses a complicated points system for qualification, which basically starts all athletes old enough to race on the FIS circuit (16 years old) on 999.99 points in 5 Alpine Skiing disciplines — Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Slalom and Super-Combined.
The best in the world is on 0 points, there can only be one athlete on 0 points at one time. Therefore the aim of every ski racer is to work their way down to 0 points. Every race gives an athlete the chance to lower points.
Steyn has trained and raced from his family base in Europe since the age of nine. In 2012, Luke joined the USCA race team at the University of Boulder Colorado in USA, from where he has been able to continue his training and racing career.
He is now a year off university in an effort to achieve the required number of points to enable him to fulfil his dream and compete on the European circuit when it opens nearer the end of the year. He has already qualified for the Giant Slalom and is now working on three more results to qualify for slalom.
The 20-year-old, who is currently in the country, said it’s is an honour to be able to represent Zimbabwe in Sochi.
The UK-based athlete said since he joined skiing, he has been competing for the past eight years and has been participating in international events for five years.
He will resume competition in November, before he travels to Colorado for more events as he hopes to make the remaining qualifications.
In January, he will be in Italy, France, Germany and Austria as he prepares for Sochi.
“At the moment on giant slalom I am on 70 points and slalom I am on 120 points and for the qualification for Sochi I understand you need five results in each of those disciplines under 140 points and as far as I know, I have already qualified for giant slalom and then for slalom I am yet to qualify. I just have to get three more results under 140 and that shouldn’t be a problem for me,” said Steyn.
The UK-based athlete said he has passion for the sport but noted that it takes huge sacrifices to become a top athlete as he gets to travel a lot for competitions.
“It’s just a case of being exposed to different opportunity, I mean, I was not exposed to the opportunity of athletics or cricket or rugby as much as I was to skiing. Also in the UK, there is not as much opportunity for it but because we have lived in Switzerland, because we lived in Monaco in France, it gave us that opportunity to be familiar with the sport and so it’s just being exposed to a different sport.
“Skiing is a huge sacrifice, actually I am barely around my family, I have to travel to all the different countries. I am not able to do skiing at home where maybe an athlete who does summer sport is able to stay at home and still competes,” said Steyn.
Steyn acknowledged the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee for awarding him the Olympic Scholarship which was effective from July 1 this year to February next year, and said it has helped a lot since he currently does not have a sponsor.
The young skier said for him, the Sochi Games are a learning curve and is looking forward to a bright future in the sport.
“I see it more as a learning curve and obviously, I am going to try my best and achieve what I can, it’s a stepping stone. It’s more about getting stronger, getting better at skiing and understand the sport and get more experience that’s what it is about.
“I hope I do well as I expect myself to do. I think it’s a learning curve not only for me but also for ZSP to get experience from that, so we can go from strength to strength from one Olympics to the next,” said Steyn.
Steyn’s mother, Heather, said it’s been a difficult journey since their son spends most of his time away from the rest of the family but noted that it is worth it and they are proud of Luke.
“It’s been difficult for all of us because he has been away from home for a while but he has achieved a lot in that time. He did very well with his ‘A’ Level exam and I think that gave him more determination to be a good sportsman. We are going to look for sponsorship for him now in the UK and wherever we can get it from and here in Zimbabwe too and hopefully we can push him further and help him achieve what he wants.
“It’s been difficult, we have missed him as family and we are a very close family. He has got two sisters who miss him terribly as well but it has made him grow and become a better person and a stronger sportsman.
“I am very proud of him, he has achieved his personal goals,” said Heather.