Kenyan on Olympic fast track down­hill

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - GRA­HAM DUN­BAR

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.”

ALESSAN­DRO TROVATI, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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