Kenyan on Olympic fast track downhill
Kenyan skier Sabrina Simader’s ambitious path to the 2018 Olympic downhill went through St. Moritz on Tuesday.
The 18-year-old Simader was the only African starter in the women’s super-G race at the world ski championships. She placed last of 39 finishers, more than eight seconds behind champion Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria.
Still, one month after her World Cup debut in Slovenia — and one year after her four-race Winter Youth Olympics program in Norway — it’s a key stage in Simader’s route to earning her place in the Olympic lineup next year in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The Austrian-based teenager’s quest is unusual because few racers outside traditional Alpine teams qualify in the more challenging speed events of downhill and super-G. Simader races all disciplines and plans to have a busy program at the two-week worlds.
“It’s really emotional. I enjoyed it,” she said after completing the race to loud cheers from the Swiss crowd and her fan club from Austria waving several Kenyan flags. “The weather is nice, the slope was cool. I hope I will be faster next time.”
Simader’s exuberance was matched by her mother Sarah, who trained a camera on the giant screen broadcasting the second half of a 90-second run down the 1.95-kilometre course.
“It’s super. It makes me feel very proud,” Sarah Simader told The Associated Press.
Born in Kenya, Sabrina Simader came with her mother to Austria and began skiing when she was three. Her stepfather, Josef, runs a ski lift in Hansberg.
“When she turned 13 she won a local championship,” Simader’s adviser, Armin Kolb, told the AP. “She went to Schladming to ski school with other Austrian racers and really learned ski racing.”
Simader has scored top-10 finishes in downhill and slalom events at the third-tier FIS (International Ski Federation) race level.
In her World Cup debut in January, in giant slalom, she was eight seconds behind first-run leader Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States.
Simader has sponsors including broadcaster Sky and the Planai ski resort in Austria to help cover costs, including hiring her private coach, Christian Reif. She is eligible for funding from the Kenyan Olympic committee, whose officials she met at the Youth Olympics in Lillehammer.
It has not helped that Kenya’s government disbanded the national Olympic body last August citing corrupt behaviour by team officials linked to the Rio de Janeiro Games.
In her adopted home Austria, one fan is Hannes Reichelt, who trained with Simader in Reiteralm during one of his returns from injury.
“She is really funny,” Reichelt told the AP. “It’s nice to see her on the slopes.”
Kenya’s Sabrina Simader speeds down the slope during a women’s super-G, at the Alpine Ski World Championships, in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Tuesday.