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Olympics helps Willams overcome adversity

3 July 2013

FREESTYLE SKIING: A female Sydneysider is striving to make her Olympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in a sport making its own Olympic debut. Davina Williams is one of just two Australian athletes vying to compete in the new Olympic discipline of Ski Halfpipe next February.

“It is a lot of fun,” Williams said of her event that along with Ski Slopestyle has been added to the Freestyle Skiing Olympic program.

However the road to competition has been tough, both physically and mentally. Injuries combined with the death of fellow Halfpipe athlete meant Williams spent a few years away from the sport.

In 2009 Williams tore the ACL in her left knee and underwent reconstructive surgery. It was a long recovery so she sat out the rest of the season and returned to the snow the following year.

“I found it difficult to find my groove and struggled to ski my best,” the 2007 and 2008 World Cup medallist said. “2011 was much the same, my confidence started to drop and my enthusiasm to train went along with it.”

At the same time, Williams lost a good friend in Canadian Sarah Burke, who died while competing in the Halfpipe. Burke had been a pioneer in the sport and pushed for its inclusion in the Olympics.

Then Williams suffered her own head injuries; two concussions while training and competing in New Zealand. It was the tip of the iceberg and she decided to take some time off following the advice of her doctors.

“My sport is a super tough sport. Injury is almost certain, death is possible,” Williams said. “Even though as a professional we take calculated risks, a risk is still a risk and having this play on me mentally was tough, I needed a break.”

Williams took 10 months off and only a few months ago decided she was ready to return to the sport.

“I have been working closely with a trainer to get my body into its best shape yet,” she said. “I spent three weeks in Oregon in May on snow and that is where I am at today.”

The 27-year-old grew up on the northern beaches and was a promising moguls skier before turning to Halfpipe.

Ski Halfipipe sees athletes perform a multitude of flips, spins and grabs on their trip down the pipe as a panel of judges award marks for air, style and landing.

“If you think of skateboarding or snowboarding, it is quite similar,” the dual World Cup medallist explained. “Skiers move down the pipe, which is like half a pipe, about 250m long and in a U-shape doing tricks along the way.”

The second Australian contender aiming for Sochi is 26-year-old Amy Sheehan, who trains and competes with Williams.

“We have a great team dynamic,” Williams said. “Even though we compete against each other we are super supportive of one another on and off the hill and in training and competition. We are pretty lucky we work so well together- she's a great team mate!”

The International Olympic Committee incorporated Ski Halfpipe into the Olympic Winter program in April 2011. Since then there has been a surge in its participation numbers and the quality of competition.

“Because the sport is new to the Olympics there have been a lot of athletes coming through recently,” Williams said.

She has identified two up-and-coming athletes as ones to watch at the Winter Olympics next year.

“I would say Megan Gunning from Canada and Devin Logan from America as one’s to watch. Megan has great style and great amplitude and Devin has been doing well lately.”

A contender herself, Williams first tasted success in the Ski Halfpipe in 2007 when she took home a silver medal at the World Cup in Apex, Canada. The following year she won a bronze medal at the World Cup in Inawashiro, Japan.

“Over the next six months there will be a lot of training, especially in the gym,” she said. “There will be a lot of weights and a lot of travelling to the States, New Zealand and then back to the States.”

“I love the sport, as challenging as it can be at times, I know I will always continue to ski, I also don't like seeing myself give up and so with the Olympics just around the corner I couldn't let myself quit.”

Williams will find out whether she will wear the green and gold only a few weeks before the Winter Games commence, when the International Federation for Skiing notifies Australia of its qualification places on 20 January 2014.

“Just making it to the Games would be amazing,” she said. “If I do, I would love to make a podium, but competing at my best on the day and putting in a solid run would be enough for me.”

The women’s freestyle Ski Halfpipe event takes place on Thursday 20 February at Rosa Khutor in Sochi, Russia.

Frances Cordaro

Olympics.com.au             @AUSOlympicTeam

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