CROSS COUNTRY: With just over a year to go until the 23rd edition of the Winter Olympic Games gets underway, Australia’s best cross country skiers will get their chance to see just what they’re in for at PyeongChang 2018.
A team of five Aussies will hit the snow in the Olympic city for the official test event which doubles as a leg of the World Cup circuit.
Sochi 2014 Olympians Phil Bellingham and Aimee Watson will race alongside Paul Kovacs and Jessica Yeaton in the Classic Sprint on Friday evening to kick off proceedings.
Kovacs, Watson and Yeaton will then be joined by Olympian Callum Watson in the Skiathlon on Saturday. Bellingham and Callum Watson will then join forces, as will Yeaton and Aimee Watson, to compete in the Freestyle Team Sprint on Sunday.
Newly announced Head Coach Valerio Leccardi is guiding the team in Korea and has been impressed with what he has seen so far.
“The tracks here at PyeongChang are really nice,” Leccardi said.
“They have some good climbs, fast downhills and corners which should suit our athletes really well.”
“I hope that the athletes can learn how they have to ski the courses so that they are able to mentally prepare the next 12 months. It should also make them hungry and give them some extra motivation to qualify for the Games.”
25-year-old Bellingham continues to get stronger and looked primed for a stellar performance in the Freestyle Sprint event at the last World Cup in Falun, Sweden, before taking a fall. He will no doubt be leaving it all on the course as he looks to make the 30-man final in his lesser favoured Classic technique.
“The course is really hard with lots of climbing which doesn't suit me, but that’s Classic sprinting,” Bellingham said.
“Top 30 would be the ultimate goal. It is pretty motivating to be here with the Olympic vibe, be on the courses and check out what PyeongChang has to offer for sure.”
19-year-old Yeaton and 26-year-old Kovacs are chasing their first Olympic appearance in a little over a years’ time and are pumped up to be competing this weekend.
“I think just being in an atmosphere that is centred around the Olympics makes it feel closer and like a more tangible goal, which is very motivating,” said Yeaton.
“I would love to be top 40 in the individual races, and obviously qualifying in the Sprint would be absolutely amazing.”
Kovacs added: “There is a sense of excitement amongst the athletes for sure as well as all the staff and volunteers that are working here.
“Being here now I don't want it to be a once off visit to Korea. I really want to be here next year and seeing the courses now and how they ski makes me want to come back next year for sure.”
Callum Watson lined up at his first Games in Sochi and, like Bellingham, is on track to make his second Games.
“I’m aiming for top 75% of the field here and achieve a result that puts me closer to my overall goal of top 30,” said the 27-year-old.
“The courses are fast, flowing and challenging. I feel like the longer climbs followed by good periods of rest suit me well and I'm excited to see what sort of results I can achieve in these competitions.
The women’s Sprint qualification gets underway at 6:30pm AEDT on Friday with the men’s to follow at 7:10pm. You can follow the live results here>>>