BIATHLON: It is unusual for an endurance skier like Alexei Almoukov to find himself on a precipice, but that is exactly where Australia's leading Biathlon hopeful is teetering with less than 25 days to Sochi.
BIATHLON: It is unusual for an endurance skier like Alexei Almoukov to find himself on a precipice, but that is exactly where Australia's leading Biathlon hopeful is teetering with less than 23 days to Sochi.
Almoukov has played all of his cards in the tactical ski/shoot sport, but needs a re-allocation of quota places to fall his way to ensure Australia is represented in Biathlon at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
Almoukov has met the qualification system eligibility criteria- including compliance with all IBU technical standards- but awaits other nations giving up their positions to earn a start at the Games. The top 28 ranked nations- some with multiple competitors- will compete in Sochi.
Australia is currently ranked 31st, but can move into Olympic considerations if nations ahead give up some or all of their athlete quota places. There is nothing else Australia- and Almoukov as Australia's highest ranked competitor- can do but play the waiting game hoping for the best.
It is a complex equation, but one Almoukov has put behind him to find the form of his career. In December he won Australia's only medal at the Winter Universiade (Winter University Games) with bronze in the 12.5km Pursuit.
"Universiade was definitely a big highlight for me," Almoukov said from his Russian training base.
"The result showed that when I am in good form I can be very competitive. I will go into Sochi knowing I can perform to a high standard and I will try to do my very best in each event," he said hopefully.
Almoukov is extremely focused on his sport, choosing to complete years 10 to 12 by correspondence to enable complete training. After making his Olympic debut at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, Almoukov has been determined to find his way up the rankings and onto the Sochi start line.
"The Olympic Games are special; it is not like any other event you compete in. It makes you more motivated and inspired to keep going on with your sporting career.
"I have definitely improved a lot from the last Olympics," he says of Vancouver, where his best result was 78th in the 20km Individual.
"I have been training more every year and my results have been steadily improving. I was not at my 100 per cent at the last Olympics- suffering from flu- and that was a real shame. I will do my very best to ensure I am healthy and feeling my 100 per cent best at these coming Olympic Games.
"All I have to do now is stay healthy, train hard and everything will work out fine."
In March last year Almoukov earned his first World Cup points at the Olympic Test Event/ World Cup in Sochi. The Russian-born biathlete clearly feels at home at Sochi's Laura Stadium where he shot clean and finished 33rd in a field of 96 in the 20km Individual event.
Almoukov spends time training in Russia, central Europe, Austria and Italy. In the off season he returns home to Berridale.
His family includes mother Irena and brother Kostya, and he is coached by his father, Nick.
"My mother has been travelling with me this year on the World Cup circuit, helping me wash my clothes and cook for me which has been such a treat," the 23-year-old explains with a smile.
"She will also come to the Olympic Games to cheer me on so that should be quite special. My father is my coach so he will also be there supporting me in every way."
Almoukov has a few other tricks up his sleeve should he book the proverbial ticket to Sochi.
"I do enjoy coming to Russia to compete; I can speak the language almost fluently so it is a big advantage getting around.
"I have only been to Sochi once and I would have to say it a very interesting place. I didn't have much time to observe the site when I was there last year, so hopefully this Olympics I can have a look around."
Almoukov's position will become clearer on 23 January when the International Biathlon Union begin the process of quota re-allocation.