PROFILE Katya Crema, Ski Cross Olympian

2nd of September 2010

Katya at the Rip Curl FreeRide Pro 2010 in Thredbo. Image:: Courtesy Rip Curl

Words | Alison Treloar

As I hit the slopes this season the concept of travelling up to 80 kilometres per hour with my skis pointing downhill was terrifying. Hitting burms and jumps in the process was simply unfathomable. But for Olympian Katya Crema it's all in a day's work.

In February this year Australia watched as this Olympic newcomer finished a respectable 15th in ski cross, the newest sport in the Winter Olympic Schedule and one of the most exciting to watch.

Many winter sports are unfathomable to everyday Australians. Biathlon, curling and figure skating are far removed from the swimming, cycling and running events of the summer Games. But ski cross makes sense. Four skiers racing head to head down a hair-raising circuit of jumps and bends appealed to our nation's competitive side as we rallied behind Crema and fellow ski cross skiers, Jenny Owens and Scott Kneller.

This is how it was done in the 80s. Katya in the Buller Park. Image:: Elle Cook

Initially an alpine skier, Crema switched to ski cross two years ago after realising it provided the best chance of Olympic selection. Having skied at Mt Buller from the age of three, competing at the Olympics has "always been a dream" for the 21 year old, however selection as an alpine skier is highly competitive and would require many more years experience. That's not to say qualifying for ski cross was a walk in the park. Crema had to perform well in the 2009/2010 World Cup Season to cement her place, but the field of normally 30-40 skiers had swelled to 70 as everyone vied for selection. Crema claims she'd "never been so stressed in my life", and at her young age it's easy to believe. Despite her whole family having booked to travel to Vancouver, it wasn't until the last World Cup event that Crema got the result she needed. Reflecting back she states, "It was an emotional roller coaster, I've never had such highs and lows in my life." Undoubtedly the biggest high was the Olympics itself. "I was really excited. It was almost surreal when I was there competing but now, thinking back, it's a dream come true."

Katya. Image:: Harro

With Vancouver's adrenalin and excitement behind her, Crema has her eyes firmly set on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, whilst hoping to notch up a World Cup Podium finish and a top ten finish in the 2013 World Championships along the way. In the meantime, the Melbourne local is enjoying being in Australia and loves coming back to Mt Buller. "I still love skiing in Australia, when I'm at Mt Buller it's like my home. My family's there and my friends are there so it's also the lifestyle that comes with skiing."

Crema attributes much of her skiing ability to the early training she received at Mt Buller. "When I was three I started skiing with my dad. I started in between his legs and then I moved onto ski school with my cousin. We'd all go up to Mt Buller and share an apartment". She went from ski school to Team XTreme, learning a bit of everything in the process; racing, moguls, freestyle. At the age of 11 Crema went into race club and "it kind of went from there".

Katya. Image:; Elle Cook

For young hopeful skiers Crema's recipe for success involves the basics. "Start off in alpine and start off in a good club. I raced with Mt Buller race club for six years and that taught me pretty much everything." Can you skip the alpine phase and go straight into ski cross? "Those kinds of people don't do as's the alpine guys who have that ingrained competitive proper training that will go far and do well."

This single-minded determination has served Crema well in her climb to success. After tearing her anterior cruciate ligament and being heli-lifted off the mountain in Switzerland in 2008, Crema required two knee surgeries and nearly a year of recovery to get back on the snow. "I just knew I wanted to keep going, because I realised I missed skiing and the whole competitive environment." She also missed travelling and the lifestyle.

"That's what I love about competing, the lifestyle that comes with it. We travel the world and I've got friends from all around the world. You meet really interesting, cool people so that's also a part of it, as well as the skiing". Still, there's no love lost on the snow, "once you get in the gate it's obviously everyone for themselves and everyone gets competitive".

Ski cross is not for the faint-hearted, but Crema enjoys the thrill. "It's like a good scared. It's like adrenaline rush, heart pumping when you get to the bottom it's like 'phew, I'm alive'. Then I just wanna go again. It's that kind of feeling."

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