OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

Wan­garatta sib­lings Fin­lay and Freya Clarke are carv­ing their own path to star­dom in the world of cross country ski­ing.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Scott An­der­son

Wan­garatta sib­lings Fin­lay and Freya Clarke are carv­ing their own path to star­dom in the world of cross country ski­ing.

WAN­GARATTA has a rich his­tory of nur­tur­ing tal­ented cross country skiers, with lo­cal prod­ucts such as Ben and Chris Der­rick, Xanthea Dewez, Leon and Kate Spiller, Imo­gen and Genevieve Blanch, Tom and Bree Lam­bert, Cameron Dick­in­son, Ben Kaye, Ais­linn Kildea and An­drew John­stone all mak­ing their mark on the sport at na­tional and in­ter­na­tional level in re­cent years.

Brother/sis­ter duo Fin­lay and Freya Clarke are the lat­est XC stars to add their names to the list.

Fin­lay, 18, re­cently re­turned home af­ter spend­ing five months train­ing in Davos, Switzer­land, and rac­ing through­out Europe.

The fam­ily at­mos­phere of cross country ski­ing was what ini­tially drew him in. “I first got into ski­ing through my par­ents,” Fin­lay said. “We had moved to the North East from Sydney and with Wan­garatta’s cen­tral lo­ca­tion we started to do week­end trips up to Falls Creek, where we would pack honey sand­wiches and go out for the whole day ex­plor­ing the ex­ten­sive cross country ski trail system.

“With Wan­garatta be­ing only two hours from Falls Creek, Mt Hotham and Mt Buf­falo, day trips to the snow be­came a typ­i­cal week­end af­fair for the Clarke fam­ily.

“It was great hav­ing these three moun­tains at our doorstep in Wan­garatta as each week­end we could pick from three re­sorts to visit.

“Falls Creek is by far my favourite moun­tain to ski at as it of­fers the best cross country ski­ing trails in Aus­tralia.”

Seven­teen-year-old Freya loved the fam­ily trips, but said frus­tra­tion was a fac­tor when she was younger.

“It’s a hard sport, so I would give up re­ally eas­ily and lose mo­ti­va­tion when I was lit­tle,” Freya said.

“It’s like go­ing for a run but with skis on – it’s very aer­o­bi­cally de­mand­ing.

“Com­pared to down­hill ski­ing, cross country is more dy­namic and fit­ness based, and I find that it is more fam­ily ori­en­tated as well.

“You can take a pic­nic and go out for as long as you like just fol­low­ing the trails.

“We’ve got a great se­lec­tion of cross country trails in Aus­tralia – on a good day at Falls Creek when ev­ery­thing is open you could ski all day and not do any of the same stuff twice.

“Over­seas you might find re­sorts that have a lit­tle bit more, but not a lot more.

“The main dif­fer­ence over­seas is there is a lot more al­ti­tude, so you could ski a trail that goes up­hill for two hours, and also our snow is al­ways a bit more moist.

“But for the amount of snow we get here, the cross country ski­ing we have is amaz­ing.”

While nat­u­ral ap­ti­tude cer­tainly played its part, it was Fin­lay’s

com­pet­i­tive na­ture that saw him progress through the ranks to be­come one of Aus­tralia’s top ju­nior cross country skiers.

“I be­gan to race com­pet­i­tively when I was 14 and raced in Vic Champs in or­der to qual­ify for the Vic­to­rian XC team,” Fin­lay said.

“But be­fore that, ev­ery year I would race in the an­nual 7km Joey Hoppet, which is part of the Kan­ga­roo Hoppet held at Falls Creek.

“Ev­ery year in the Joey I would fin­ish third in my age group and the win­ner would al­ways re­ceive a $500 AGL spon­sor­ship.

“You could say that prospect of win­ning $500 in the Joey mo­ti­vated me to start rac­ing and train­ing a bit more so that I could give those other boys a run for their money.

“To this day I have never won the $500, how­ever, my ski­ing pas­sion has now gone far be­yond that of prize money and more about en­joy­ing the rush of rac­ing and that feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion when you’re push­ing your­self be­yond your lim­its, to com­plete ex­haus­tion. “Suc­cess didn’t come easy. “My age group was and still is re­ally com­pet­i­tive and I was al­ways fin­ish­ing behind NSW skiers such as Matt Bull and Liam Bur­ton.

“This drove me to start train­ing harder, to fo­cus more on XC ski­ing.

“With this fierce ri­valry in my age group, I was pushed to train harder, to race faster.

“I wouldn’t be at the level I am to­day with­out the strong level of com­pe­ti­tion when I was a ju­nior.”

Freya has fol­lowed in her older brother’s foot­steps, and hopes to em­u­late his suc­cess over the com­ing years.

“I started rac­ing when I was 12, in the Vic­to­rian State Cham­pi­onships just to try it,” she said.

“From there the coaches spotted me and in­vited me to train with the state de­vel­op­ment squad.

“Mak­ing it onto a team made me take it a bit more se­ri­ously, but it wasn’t un­til I was 15 that I re­ally started to do a lot of train­ing.

“Year by year I have taken it more se­ri­ously, and last year I trained all year to qual­ify for the na­tional team.

“My brother has been over to Sil­ver Star in Canada on a team trip, and it is just that team at­mos­phere, train­ing ev­ery day and living like an ath­lete that re­ally ap­pealed to me.

“That was the thing that re­ally mo­ti­vated me to get onto a team and get the op­por­tu­nity to go over­seas.”

Freya’s train­ing part­ner, 15-year-old Liam Flana­gan, has also made big strides in the sport over the past 18 months, re­sult­ing in se­lec­tion in the Vic­to­rian ju­nior XC squad.

“When I started at Wan­garatta High School we had a re­ally good ski pro­gram, so I got mo­ti­vated by that,” Liam said.

“Ini­tially I had been more into down­hill ski­ing, but as I pro­gressed I be­came more in­ter­ested in cross country, and now that’s all I do.

“I did a few races in year seven, when I was 12 – I didn’t do very well, but I stuck with it.

“In the last cou­ple of years my re­sults im­proved and I got spotted by the Vic­to­rian squad, and since get­ting into that I have been do­ing pretty well.

“I didn’t re­ally have any kind of train­ing plan early on, but when Mr Grim­mer started coach­ing me that all changed – he gave me a sched­ule that I fol­low and it’s easy to see the re­sults.

“I’ll be try­ing to get a qualification for the Aus­tralian team, but re­al­is­ti­cally that prob­a­bly won’t hap­pen un­til next year.

“So in the mean­time I’ll keep rac­ing and try to im­prove my tech­nique, and see how it goes from there.”

Fin­lay has al­ready com­piled a strong re­sume in the sport, plac­ing third in the Cana­dian Nor-am clas­sic sprint, com­ing very close to qual­i­fy­ing for the 2016 Win­ter Youth Olympics, plac­ing sec­ond in the 2015 Na­tional Cham­pi­onships at Falls Creek, win­ning at the 2015 Vic­to­rian In­ter­schools at Mt Buller, and, most re­cently, fin­ish­ing 19th in the 2017 Cam­pra Swiss Cup Mass Start Clas­sic. >>

He cred­ited some ex­cel­lent coach­ing for his suc­cess. “Ron­ice Goebel and Jean-claude Le­gras, who are the cur­rent coaches of the Vic­to­rian Ski Team, were big in­flu­ences in my ski­ing pro­gres­sion,” Fin­lay said.

“Ron­ice saw me race for the first time at Vic Ju­niors and took me in from a younger age (14 years old) to join the Vic squad.

“It was in the Vic squad un­der the guid­ance of Ron­ice and JC that I kept pur­su­ing the sport as well as get­ting exposure to in­ter­na­tional races.

“While Vic squad re­ally helped me progress as a skier, it was Wan­garatta High School’s ski­ing pro­gram that first got me into com­pet­i­tive XC ski rac­ing.

“Head coach Rob Find­lay was amaz­ing to train un­der as his ski­ing knowl­edge goes back 30 years.

“He has skied in ev­ery snow con­di­tion known to man and there­fore played a huge role in Wang High’s suc­cess due to his wax­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“Rob is known for his some­times unortho­dox wax­ing tech­niques, his strong cheer dur­ing races and more im­por­tantly his sto­ries – ‘this one time in Swe­den…’.

“My per­sonal coach Nick Grim­mer was re­ally in­flu­en­tial in my pro­gres­sion as an ath­lete.

“I’ve been un­der his wing since I was 16 and there was never an early morn­ing train­ing ses­sion that he didn’t at­tend – ex­cept when it rained.

“I look to Nick not only as a ski coach, but also as a life coach, as he has also helped shape me into the per­son I am to­day.

“Finn Mars­land, the na­tional team’s cross country ski pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor, is the back­bone of XC ski­ing.

“His wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence, in­ter­na­tional net­work, and in­no­va­tive coach­ing tech­niques have made the sport what it is to­day. “His in­put into my ski­ing ca­reer has been in­valu­able. “I al­ways looked up to the Olympian Ben Sim, one of the greats in Aus­tralian Cross Country ski­ing.

“He helped out at a Ski Snow­board Aus­tralia fu­tures camp when I was 14 and I re­ally found him in­spir­ing to watch race, train and talk to.

“He was the first Aussie to break the top 30 at World Cup level.”

De­spite his achieve­ments, Fin­lay said the great­est thing about ski­ing at a high level had been the doors opened up as a re­sult.

“Hav­ing good re­sults in races can be re­ally sat­is­fac­tory as all the hard work that’s been put in dur­ing train­ing ac­tu­ally pays off,” he said.

“But for me XC ski­ing is more about the ex­pe­ri­ence of trav­el­ling, meet­ing new peo­ple and ex­pand­ing my per­spec­tive of the world.

“With­out ski­ing, I don’t think I would be as global minded as I am now.

“It’s through XC ski­ing that I’ve been able to ex­pand my hori­zon be­yond Aus­tralia’s bor­ders.”

Freya re­cently spent two months in France study­ing the lan­guage, and of course work­ing on her ski­ing.

“It was an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause I was ski­ing with 14-year-olds who were as good as me,” Freya said.

“They start young and their time on snow is a lot more than what we could ever get – they live 10 min­utes from the trails so they can go and ski for two hours ev­ery day.

“In some ways it could be de­press­ing, but in other ways it makes you think that if Aus­tralians can crack the top 30 at World ju­niors or World Cham­pi­onships then we’ve done pretty well for what we have got.”

Hav­ing spent the past five months train­ing in Switzer­land, Fin­lay is hope­ful of head­ing back next year as an Aus­tralian rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

“A short-term goal would be to qual­ify for the 2018 Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onships that are in Goms, Switzer­land,” he said.

“Be­ing in­jured for the ma­jor­ity of 2016, I was un­able to at­tend the 2017 Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onships in Amer­ica, so I am re­ally mo­ti­vated to reach that level in my ski­ing ca­reer.

“A long-term goal that I’m work­ing to­wards is to study over­seas and join a univer­sity ski team, where I can fur­ther im­prove my ski­ing abil­ity, as well as study­ing at the same time.

“In or­der to reach these goals, I’m ded­i­cat­ing my gap year to train as an ath­lete full time.

“This Aus­tralian win­ter I’m plan­ning on living up at Falls Creek to train and work, where un­der the guid­ance of head coach Va­le­rio Lec­ca­rdi, we’ll con­duct our base train­ing pe­riod.

“This in­volves ac­cu­mu­lat­ing big hours of low in­ten­sity train­ing in or­der to build our aer­o­bic en­ergy system so that we may work at higher ex­er­cise in­ten­si­ties with­out ac­cu­mu­lat­ing lac­tate.”

SUM­MER TRAIN­ING / Liam Flana­gan and Freya Clarke prac­tise their tech­nique on roller skis in the Warby Range over the sum­mer months.

FRENCH CON­NEC­TION / Freya Clarke re­cently spent two months in Bes­sans, France, study­ing the lan­guage and ski­ing. HOME TRAILS / Falls Creek was where Fin­lay Clarke fell in love with the sport of cross country ski­ing.

WORLD STAGE / Fin­lay Clarke rac­ing in Switzer­land, fin­ish­ing 19th in the Cam­pra Swiss Cup Mass Start Clas­sic.

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