With only one boy and one girl representing each country in cross-country skiing at the upcoming Youth Olympic Games, it can be tough to decide which single individual deserves that opportunity. Nobody’s consistently dominant all the time, right?
In Canada, however, the decision of which boy to send was easy: Matt Saurette had been the age-group national champion for two years running.
The 16-year-old, who grew up in Edmonton, Alberta and lists Alex Harvey as his role model, was named to Cross Country Canada’s National Talent Squad. It was a wise investment by the governing body: Saurette hasn’t shown any signs of letting up for the 2012 season. In the opening Alberta Cup races, he won the junior sprint and then took a 30-second victory in the 6 k classic.
The Youth Olympic Games will not be Saurette’s first taste of the Olympic spirit. In 2010, he was selected as one of 26 young Alberta athletes to be sent to the Vancouver Games to see sports in action. Besides watching a day of racing at the Whistler Olympic Park, he got to tour Vancouver, get a picture with the Olympic flame, and get front-row seats at a medal ceremony. The experience clearly made a big impression on Saurette.
“What really excited me, besides being at the biggest sporting event in the world, was looking up into the stands at the twenty thousand people staring down and imagining what it would be like to actually be getting a medal,” Saurette wrote at the time in a recap for Edmonton Nordic’s newsletter.
While the Youth Olympic Games won’t have quite the fanbase of the senior edition, and the cheering likely won’t be as loud, the talented Saurette may have a shot at getting a medal moment of his own.
FasterSkier caught the speedy teenager for an interview over e-mail.
FasterSkier: How long have you been skiing and how did you get started as a kid?
Matt Saurette: I started skiing when I was four years old when my parents took my sister and I out to ski. They eventually enrolled me in Jackrabbits, a program for young skiers.
FS: What ski club are you a part of now, and how has that community helped you develop as an athlete?
MS: I ski with Edmonton Nordic Ski Club and this club has provided me with opportunities to train with many different coaches throughout the years. As well, Edmonton has a great river valley system that is perfect for training and recently, the Alberta government has inititated a program (Alberta Sports Development Center) for developing athletes from all sports which has allowed me to grow as well.
FS: How do you balance skiing with school and your other interests? It takes a lot of time and energy to be a good skier….
MS: I believe it’s all about finding your priorities; some people may put more time into art or music and for me I put that time into my skiing and this has made finding a balance much easier. Balancing school and sports is always tricky, however I have solid relationships with all of my teachers and they are more than flexible when I am away training and racing.
FS: What have been some of the highlights of your time as a skier so far?
MS: Some of my highlights include being national aggregate champ for 2009 and 2010.
FS: Have you raced internationally before?
MS: I have not had any major international race experience, but I was able to visit Idaho for the SuperTour Finals and have some good races there. It was very cool to race some of the best American juniors and see some of the Europeans that came over to race!
FS: Are there any experiences, like competing against older or faster skiers, that you think have prepared you for the Youth Olympic Games?
MS: Last year I raced with some of the older athletes at world junior trials which gave me a taste of the speed that the older racers have. As well, the Alberta ski team joined some of the older athletes on the Alberta World Cup Academy for a couple of hard workouts during a camp in Whistler this summer which was awesome for experience.
FS: Has it changed your approach to the season to know that you will be on this trip, rather than having to focus on qualifying for it?
MS: It has changed some of the preparation that I have done. My training schedule has been centered around the Games and nationals and so it is easier to plan the year with the added certainty in my race schedule.
FS: How does the event fit into your season and what are your other goals for the year?
MS: It fits in well- the Games fall more in the middle of the season and so we do not have to miss too many races in Canada to go to them and are still able to attend [national championships] which will be my other goal competition this year.
FS: Has the recent success of Canadian skiers at the senior level changed your expectations of what you can accomplish?
MS: It is very inspiring to see that the hard work that the senior skiers put in is paying off, which makes me feel that if I do the same I can be there some day as well. Their success motivates me to try and aspire to that level as well!
FS: What are you looking forward to most about the Games?
MS: The whole experience will be very exciting and going over to Europe is a first for me, but what I am looking forward to the most is getting some international race experience and testing my strengths.
This is the eighth in a series of interviews with athletes who will be competing at the first-ever winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria this winter. The series began with interviews of U.S. biathletes Sean Doherty, Anna Kubek, Nick Proell, and Aleksandra Zakrzewska; it continued with Canadian biathletes Danielle Vrielink, Aidan Millar, and Stuart Harden, then with U.S. skiers Paddy Caldwell and Heather Mooney.