International freestyle skiers visit KES

Photo by Robin Alberti

Russian World Cup freestyle athlete Alexandr Smyshlyaev shows his trophy to Killington Elementary School students after a presentation at the school, Feb. 3.

By Robin Alberti

KILLINGTON — If you were fortunate enough to notice expert skiers hitting the bumps and flying the jumps down Highline trail recently, you got a glimpse of members of the Japanese and the Russian national freestyle ski teams in training. The teams came to train at Killington before and after a World Cup event in Lake Placid, Jan. 29-31.

Tao Smith, Head of Killington Mountain School, accompanied members of the Russian team to Killington Elementary School on Tuesday, Feb. 3, to the students’ delight. Representing the Russian team were three athletes: Alexandr “Sasha” Smyshlyaev, Aleksey Pavlenko, and Regina Rakhimova. Smyshlyaev, who hails from Chusovoy, Russia, achieved a second place finish in the mogul event at the World Cup in Lake Placid. He was also a Bronze medallist in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Coaches accompanied the athletes to the school.

The children asked the athletes some thoughtful questions, ranging from the geographical to the psychological. Of the athletes, Smyshlyaev spoke English fairly fluently, and translated for his teammates when needed.

The team’s typical training schedule is three days on, one day off. They travel the world for competitions and train in places that fit into their competition schedule. In the summer, they “chase the snow.” The team will go to locations in the Southern Hemisphere, or on high-altitude glaciers–wherever there is snow. The Russians’ favorite place to ski competitions in the U.S. is Park City, Utah, at Deer Valley Resort. Thanks to the colder-than-average temperature the past couple of weeks, they said Killington was the coldest place they have trained in a while.

Some kids wanted to know if the athletes got nervous before a competition. Smyshlyaev told them he does a little, at the beginning of the season, but it gets easier. He tries to clear his mind and think of nothing at all, and just breathe.

All the competitors love what they do, but it is a job, they said. A tough part of their job is their nomadic lifestyle: they are away from home 60 percent of the time.

Igor Dostal is an athletic trainer whose job it is to keep the athletes healthy so they can perform at their best. He has been training athletes for the past five years. Dostal used to race, but once his body was “too used up to compete,” he became a trainer.

“There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes for the athletes to be able to compete,” he said. “They beat their bodies up. Massage, strength training, eating right… it all makes a difference.”

Dostal described for the kids how some athletes make it to this high level of competitive skiing. “It starts as a dream, and then it becomes a goal,” he said. “When your mind makes a way to make that dream come true … that is how you become a top athlete.”

An insightful student asked which was harder, to make the team or stay on it. Both are difficult, but according to Smyshlyaev and the coaches, it is very difficult to maintain such a high level of skiing. “Every year there are people trying to knock you off and take your spot [on the team].”

After the children were done asking questions, Smyshlyaev kindly let them touch his trophy and medals, while others signed autographs.

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