PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Australian Greta Small has literally come a long way since she learnt to ski at her local resort of Mount Hotham — she had to.
The 22-year-old, who registered Australia’s best result in women’s Olympic downhill on Wednesday, finishing 20th, spends half of the year in Europe because at home there is little competition — and relatively little in the way of downhill.
The longest run at Mount Hotham, a hill compared with the European Alps, is listed as 2.5km, about 300 metres shorter than the course she hurtled down at the Pyeongchang Games, 2.85 seconds behind the winner, Italian Sofia Goggia.
That’s still a big gap in the split-second world of downhill racing, but one she is steadily closing.
At the Sochi Games four years ago, she finished 29th in downhill and 15th in Alpine combined, a mixture of downhill and slalom. She aims to improve on that combined result on Thursday.
“One day I want to win that gold medal,” she said at the end of her run, the only skier from outside the winter sports powerhouses of North America and Europe to finish in the top 20.
“Coming from Australia, you definitely have a lot of set-backs compared with the likes of Lindsey Vonn,” Small added, referring to the American all-time great who took the downhill bronze on Wednesday.
“I don’t try to think about what other people have and the support I might not necessarily have.”
Small travels with her father, Boyd, who is her wax tech, around the European circuit, spending up to seven months at a time away from her home in the rural town of Albury in southeast Australia, a few hours from Mount Hotham.
Even in Australia, Small’s discipline of Alpine skiing is the Cinderella of winter sports, receiving much less funding and support than snowboarding and freestyle skiing where Australians have won most of their gold medals.
The last time an Australian stepped on an Olympic podium in Alpine skiing was at the Nagano Games in 1998 when Zali Steggall won bronze in the women’s slalom. It was also the first skiing medal for Australia in Olympic history.
“At the moment in Australian sport everything is medals-based, so I think that’s why our snowboard and freestyle teams have massive support,” Small said.
Apart from a smattering of Australian fans at Pyeongchang, Small has a diehard following in her home town on the other side of the world. At her old primary school in Albury, in sweltering southern hemisphere summer heat, pupils set up a TV to watch her chase her dream.
“We have just got to keep doing the best we can (in Alpine),” Small said. “We won a medal 20 years ago so hopefully we can do it again.” (Editing by Christian Radnedge)