Cross country team prepares to do the Border proud

IT’S the largest Australian cross country team at a Winter Olympics — and they’re all from the Border.

Mount Beauty’s Esther Bottomley and Phil Bellingham, and Aimee and Callum Watson, the first brother and sister to represent the nation in cross country at the Games, will compete in seven events in the next two weeks.

Even coach Finn Marsland was a product of the prolific cross country breeding ground known as the Birkebeiner Club at Falls Creek.

He said the team faced challenging snow conditions, huge fields and countries which invested heavily in the sport.

“This is the largest cross country team we’ve ever had at the Winter Olympics,” he said.

“Everyone has been on the road overseas since November, racing in different levels of competition including World Cup, Continental Cup and national championships.”

Marsland said all four skiers had done the hard yards ahead of the Games.

“Aimee Watson had the toughest preparation as she was injured in 2011 and 2012 and had the biggest ground to make up to qualify,” he said.

“She raced 10 consecutive weekends chasing the points to qualify and made it by a hair’s breadth.

“Bottomley and Callum were a little sick mid January and just returned to racing at the World Cup last weekend.

“These were really good hit-outs and showed they are healthy and on their way back to race form.

“Phil has had an outstanding season.

“In his last three sprints he has had his best World Cup result, 16th in the qualifying at the U23 World championship and now yesterday his closest effort to making the finals on World Cup.”

Australia’s best Olympic cross-country results were 33rd by Chris Heberle (Mt Beauty) in Calgary in 1988 and 34th by Anthony Evans (Wodonga) in Albertville in 1992.

Marsland said snow conditions were likely to be challenging.

“With the mountains so close to the Black Sea the weather can be very variable,” he said.

“Sometimes it could be like Falls Creek but it can also get a lot colder.

“Ski waxing is most difficult with new snow around zero degrees as there can be huge differences in snow crystal size and shape.

“Getting the wax right is critical for performance — a favourite can be outside the top 30 if their waxing team gets it wrong.”