Skier Larisa Yurkiw funds her own Olympic training

Monday, July 22, 2013

Canadian skier working with German team.

Larisa Yurkiw has cleared one hurdle on her road to the Sochi Olympics, but there are more challenges ahead.

The downhill skier from Owen Sound, Ont., was dropped from the national team in May and is paying her own way to train on snow with the German team in Zermatt, Switzerland, starting Wednesday until the end of July.

“I’ve put in $25,000 of my own money and that’s how I was able to go on my first camp,” Yurkiw said from Toronto. “Team Larisa is not rolling in cash.”

Yurkiw, 25, earned her first World Cup top-10 result in 2009 and was a talented prospect behind Canadian team veterans Emily Brydon, Britt Janyk and Kelly VanderBeek.

But Yurkiw crashed during training in Val-d’Isere, France, on Dec. 16, 2009, tearing multiple ligaments in her left knee that required reconstructive surgery to repair.

Not only was Yurkiw unable to race in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, she couldn’t compete on the World Cup circuit for two years.

Yurkiw had one top-30 finish in her first full season racing World Cups this past winter. She finished 23rd in super-G and 28th in downhill at this year’s world championship.

Her results didn’t meet the criteria to remain on the national team.

Alpine Canada shifted its funding to the men’s downhill team and slalom racers Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., and Erin Mielzynski of Brampton, Ont.

The organization considers those athletes more likely to win medals in Sochi.

As the host country, Canada can have up to six women race the downhill and super-G at the season-opening World Cup in Lake Louise, Alta., in November.

After that, Canada is limited to one quota spot for women’s World Cup races in Europe.

Alpine Canada is leaning towards Gagnon for that berth because she has Olympic medal potential in the combined event, which comprises the downhill and the slalom.

Yurkiw is footing the bill for her off-season training. Her coach last season, Kurt Mayr, is donating his time to work with her in Zermatt.

“My shorter-term goal is to keep creating a preparation period for myself,” Yurkiw said. “I can fall asleep at night thinking about the sensations I’d feel standing in the Lake Louise start. I’m more excited to get a chance to go fast and be aggressive in Zermatt.”

She has the opportunity to train in Zermatt again in September if she can raise the money.

“There’s no real stopping,” she said. “I’m training like I would any other summer. That’s obviously the priority. If I’m not fit, then this might not go anywhere.

“I’m just trying to keep banging on doors and hope a few of them let me in and create a partnership.”

Without national team support, Yurkiw is responsible for her own logistics in addition to fundraising.

“The initiative that an athlete has to take to go independent like this is pretty powerful,” she said. “I choose to seize this opportunity as opposed to feeling cornered.”

Yurkiw raised $22,000 via the website Pursuit to pay team fees when she was on the national team last year.

She estimates her budget for the 2013-14 season will be $150,000.

“That’s the highest number I’ve ever had to raise,” Yurkiw said. “I just have to be creative, but also have some big corporations step up in a big way for me to meet my goal.”

The Canadian Press

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