4 athletes Sochi bound as Olympic countdown enters single digits

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A record equaling four Sydney University Olympians are in the midst of concluding their final preparations, with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games Opening Ceremony now just nine days away (February 7). 

The four athletes – which is the same number of Sydney University representatives at the 2006 Games – include SUSF Elite Athlete Program (EAP) scholarship holder Lavinia Chrystal and former SUSF scholarship holders Danielle O’Brien, Astrid Radjenovic (nee Loch-Wilkinson) and Aimee Watson.

SUSF Elite Athlete Program Manager, Leonie Lum said it was a tremendous achievement for the four girls to be selected to represent their country in Sochi.

“The selection of these athletes, both past and present scholarship holders, showcases the diversity of the SUSF Elite Athlete Program,” she said.

“Athletes from over 35 different sports are represented in the Program and it is uplifting to see our athletes striving for excellence and reaching their goals in their sport, tertiary studies and beyond.”

Chrystal, an alpine skier who will make her Olympic debut on the slopes of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort on February 18, was one of the final selections in Australia’s largest ever Australian Olympic Winter Team of 60 athletes.

“I’m just so excited. I’ve dreamt about going to the Olympics for such a long time, so the fact that my dreams are coming true is really amazing,” Chrystal told the Australian Olympic Committee from her training base in Austria.

“I can’t wait to get to Sochi and compete against the best in the world.”

Chrystal’s selection is particularly sweet because of the long path she has taken to earn her selection – a selection that looked unlikely when she crushed her knee and fractured her leg at the Australian Winter University Games back in September 2011.

Following 18 months off the snow and a lengthy rehabilitation process, the University of Sydney Master of Management student showed her undeniable fighting qualities to win her third national title last year.  

Over the past few months Chrystal has been competing in slalom and giant slalom events around the globe, earning her Sochi selection with a host of excellent performances in the US and Austria.

“Alpine has the most competitors of any sport at the Games, so my goal is a top 30-40 result in each discipline (slalom and giant slalom),” said Chrystal.  

“Most of all, I just want to do my best, and do myself, my family and my country proud.”

Sydney University’s Danielle O’Brien confirmed her Sochi selection in November last year after she and her ice dancing partner finished sixth in their free dance at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany.

Following some shaky moments early on in her circus-inspired dance routine, O’Brien and Merriman recovered to deliver a personal best score of 76.68 for their playful free program to finish on 127.20 points overall – and third out of the non-qualified nations.

“I felt very nervous today,” said O’Brien, speaking to the Australian Olympic Committee back in November.

“It’s been a long two days since the short dance. I was just so ready to compete that the adrenalin had sort of worn off until I got on the ice. It was one of the hardest free dances we’ve done. It was solid. I knew we’d given it everything and whatever was going to come of that would come of it.”

The pair continued their preparation for their debut Olympics with a seventh place finish at the Four Continents Championships over the weekend in Taipei.

O’Brien and Merriman will become only the second Australian pair to compete in ice dancing at the Olympics on February 9 at the Iceberg Skating Palace – after Monica MacDonald and Rodney Clarke at Calgary 1988.

Cross country skier Aimee Watson will make her Olympic debut on February 8 in the Ladies 15km Skiathlon, before competing in the Ladies 10km Classic (February 13) and the Ladies’ 30km Mass Start Free (February 22). 

The former SUSF scholarship holder and University of Sydney Bachelor of Veterinary student began skiing almost as soon as she could walk.

Watson’s Sochi selection became a real possibility when she delivered strong performances at the FIS races in Inari, Finland in November. Watson was 38th in the 5km Classic and 29th in the 10km Freestyle, scoring FIS points of 106.8 and 88.7 – her best points since 2009.

The next weekend she scored 91.70 points at the 5km Classic in S. Caterina Valfurva, Italy. It was a stressful wait, but Watson did enough to qualify for Sochi.

Watson and her brother Callum will become the first sister/brother duo to compete at the same Olympic Games in Cross Country for Australia.

“It will be pretty awesome to have Callum there with me,” added Aimee, speaking to the Australian Olympic Committee last week.

“I am relieved that the hard work – not only by me but the many people who have supported me – has paid off.”

Joining Watson, O’Brien and Chrystal in Sochi will be Sydney University’s most experienced Winter Olympian Astrid Radjenovic (Loch-Wilkinson).

Radjenovic, a former scholarship holder, will compete at her third consecutive Winter Olympics in the women’s bobsleigh event on February 18 with teammate and former sprinter Jana Pittman.

Radjenovic and Pittman booked their ticket to Sochi after finishing 12th in the women’s bobsleigh at January’s Skeleton and Bobsleigh World Cup in Switzerland, just 1.07 seconds behind the eventual winners.

Radjenovic finished 19th at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and 14th at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, and has been a part of every female Bobsleigh Olympic campaign in which the country has competed.

With the selections of Chrystal, O’Brien, Radjenovic and Watson, Sydney University’s all-time Winter Olympic representation has grown to nine. There was also a Paralympic Winter Games selection in 2006.

The 2014 Winter Olympic Games will take place in Sochi from Friday February 7 until Sunday February 23.

The Paralympic Winter Games will be held in Sochi, from March 7 to March 16.

Former SUSF scholarship holder Toby Kane will be hoping to compete at his second Paralympic Winter Games, when the Australian squad is announced in February.

SUSF would like to congratulate its current and former SUSF scholarship holders on their selection in the 2014 Australian Olympic Team.