Citius, Altius, Fortius?: Armenia likely to field an all-skier team at Winter Olympics

Armenia will have a modest participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics – the fifth in the history of independent Armenia, according to National Olympic Committee (NOCA) officials.

At the XXI Winter Olympic Games, Armenia will be represented by only three or four athletes, all competing in skiing. But NOCA hopes that another athlete, in bobsled, could still qualify for the world’s largest winter sports event to be held in Vancouver, Canada, February 12-28.

Only in January will it become known who particularly will wear Armenian uniforms at the White Olympiad as the International Skiing Federation will then publish its final pre-Olympic ratings for athletes – for skiers on January 17 and for alpine skiers on January 25.

“After that, the International Federation and our National Olympic Committee will make the final decision,” Secretary-General of the Skiing Federation of Armenia Gagik Sargsyan told ArmeniaNow.

Sargsyan also said that at this moment Armenia has two confirmed berths for alpine skiing – one man and one woman, and one berth for cross-country skiing.

“I think after the publication of the ratings we will have another place in cross-country skiing,” said Sargsyan, adding that now all Armenian athletes are involved in rating competitions and training assemblies and will continue to stay abroad (Italy, Finland, the United States, Russia) until mid-January.

An NOCA spokesman says the song authored by composer Ara Gevorgyan and poet Aramayis Sahakyan before the 2008 summer Olympics will stay as Team Armenia’s official Olympic anthem. The presentation of the official Olympic designer suits and mascot will be held closer to the event. A sum of about 1.32 billion drams ($3.4 million) under next year’s state budget will be allocated to the sport sphere for the organization and participation of Armenian sportsmen in international competitions. The specific share of this allocation for the purpose of Armenia’s participation in the Olympic Games is to be determined soon.

For a country whose athletes have never excelled in winter sports it is no surprise that Armenia has not made any significant achievement in the Games so far, while it has, unhappily, set a few “poor” performance records.

At the last winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, in 2006, Armenia was represented by five athletes (two cross-country skiers and one alpine skier, and a pair of ice dancers), who all had unsuccessful performances, especially the cross-country skiers who came in last and next to last.

In the four Winter Olympics held between 1994 and 2006, Armenia has not produced anything close to a medal. It had the largest delegation of sportsmen, nine, at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, USA.

Sargsyan says that they learned quite a few lessons from the Turin Olympics, since immediately after that the Skiing Federation drafted a four-year plan of preparations for the next Olympics (working out programs for the development and popularization of the sport, the coaches of the team were changed, etc).

“While at the past Olympic Games we had one or two athletes that corresponded to the criteria of the International Olympic Committee, then now the number of such sportsmen has increased and even there is more domestic competition for Olympic berths,” says Sargsyan.

According to him, the Skiing Federation of Armenia that currently has about 600 members, is trying to restore “all good traditions” connected with the sport of skiing that existed in the Soviet times.

“Now besides traditional skiing centers in Tsaghkadzor and the Shirak province, we’re also trying to develop skiing in Aparan, Vanadzor, Hrazdan, Martuni by providing equipment, sport gear, vans to our centers there,” says Sargsyan, adding that skiing is the best sport for children in rural areas who have nothing to do in wintertime.

The Skiing Federation plans to organize free skiing lessons in Yerevan for children aged 4-14 and their parents for the purpose of developing the sport. Sargsyan thinks that it will prove an important program, since sport gear for skiing is not that affordable (a very basic full set may cost a sportsman up to 100,000 drams, or about $260), and the program will help involve more people into this sport.