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Sport on Saturdays: You need to meet Anna Segal.

Anna Segal

 

By NATALIA HAWK

Here’s a fun fact to bring up at your dinner party tonight: there are only 200 days to go until the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics. Get ready for Sochi 2014, everybody.

And to celebrate, the Australian Olympic Committee launched the official 2014 Sochi website, naming all 120 athletes that are hoping to compete at the games. Only 50 of those athletes will actually make it to Sochi, and the next 200 days will be determining who qualifies and gets to hop on a plane to Russia.

But there are some athletes that have already made it onto the team. And one of these athletes is Anna Segal – a brilliant skier and the subject of this week’s Sport on Saturdays interview.

Anna and I have a bit in common. We’re both females in our mid-20s. We both have K2 skis. We both have blonde hair.

But that is where the similarities end – because Anna is ridiculously talented when it comes to skiing. Born and bred in inner-city Melbourne, she grew up being dragged to the slopes every weekend by her ex-ski-patrol mum.

“We’d go up every weekend after mum finished work on Fridays,” Anna explains to me. “Four kids into the car and we’d drive three hours up the mountain, stay there for the weekend, ski and then she’d drive us home. I don’t know how she did it, after a full week of work.”

Ironically enough, Anna hated skis when she first got on a pair at the age of four and used to “throw little tantrums” at ski school. But it was great family time, and they kept going back, and she eventually got hooked – as is usually the case with most people who try a skiing holiday.

She started skiing on the weekends in a little race club group, doing international races, and then started skiing moguls (a series of bumps in the snow which are a horrible, horrible experience for anyone less than a skiing expert) at the age of 14. At the age of 16 she was signed up to the Australian Development Team – a team aligned with the Australian Institute of Sport, meaning that she began getting government grants and funding to start competing on a more international level.

An ACL injury at the age of 18 meant that Anna had to take some time out to rehabilitate – and that’s where she decided that she’d give slopestyle skiing a go. “I like to describe slopestyle as a skate park, made out of snow, downhill,” Anna says when I ask her to explain the sport. “So there’s a variety of jumps and rails and obstacles that they set up with the course. You get to choose your own line down the course and the idea is to do the most spectacular run you can do. You’re judged on technical difficulty, style, creativity and flow.”

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Check out this video of Anna doing a slopestyle run:

Anna went on to win first place at several major events: the 2008 US Freesking Open, the 2011 World Championships in Park City, Utah, the Slopestyle at the 2009 Winter X Games, and the 2012 AFP World Championships. Seriously incredible achievements – meaning that she’s an excellent contender for a gold medal at Sochi 2014. And she’s excited about it.

“We’ve got the biggest winter Olympic team we’ve ever had,” she says. “We’ve already done quite a few interview with Ten and they seem really keen on promoting all the athletes so that’s awesome to know that they’re behind it.”

Anna in Russia earlier this year (image from Anna’s Instagram.)

Does she think that Australians tend to completely overlook the Winter Olympics, focusing only on the Summer Olympics?

“I think when the winter Olympics are on the TV they pay attention because there’s quite a variety of great spectator sports,” she explains. “But in the lead up I think people pretty much forget, and that’s understandable, because we’re not really a skiing country.

We don’t have a lot of snow, a lot of people have never even seen snow. But I hope that people can watch it on TV, appreciate it for what it is and hopefully get hooked on new events.”

She’s currently training in Australia at Thredbo. When she’s on-snow, she skis for a few hours in the morning, and then trains in the afternoon – doing yoga, a spin class, or swim recovery. When she’s in Sydney, each day consists of pilates, a weights session and a cardio session.

And in September, she’ll be heading back over to Utah to train in board ramping – essentially a giant ski ramp with plastic on the top and a big pool with bubbles, into which you practise your tricks. “It’s pretty fun,” she laughs.

From there, she’ll stay in America, preparing for Sochi along with other Winter Olympic contenders.

I ask her about funding for women participating in winter sports. Is it like professional female athletes who compete on an international level and yet can’t afford to support themselves through sport funding alone? Do women in winter sports suffer from the same issues of competing just as well, and yet getting not nearly enough recognition?

Anna explains that there’s two sides to funding. “There’s government – because slopestyle and freestyle have become an Olympic sport,” she says. “The Australian government funding is completely equal. If you meet the criteria for the scholarship ranking, then you are entitled to the same amount as a male of the same standing, which is great. Very fair.”

Image from Anna’s Instagram.

But in terms of sponsorship? “A lot of my sponsors are from overseas and there’s a massive discrepancy between how much female and male athletes are paid,” she tells me.

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“Which is I think similar to surfing and similar to snowboarding, so the top female athlete isn’t making half of what the top male athlete is.”

While that’s frustrating, she acknowledges that it is directly related to the amount of females and males that actually participate in the sport. ”

One of my goals is to get more girls into freestyle skiing and we’ve got a program in Australia called Chicks with Stix, aiming to get more girls involved in snowboarding, freestyle skiing, half pipe, all that kind of stuff, by creating a fun environment without all the testosterone-fueled kind of egos,” Anna says. “We’ll show all the girls out there how fun it is and that they can do it too.”

Because the sad fact is that there’s just not a lot of women currently participating in freestyle skiing. There’s barely any girls ripping it up in the terrain park or the halfpipe – both in Australia and internationally. “There used to be a few girls here and there, and I feel like that’s really dropped off as well which is disappointing,” Anna says.

She tells me about how she used to watch ski movies, and there were only a couple of girls in there, but she absolutely idolised them. “Even though the boys were doing cooler, better tricks, I wouldn’t pay as much attention to what they were doing to what the girls were doing, I would keep rewinding it over and over.”

And guess what? Girls can be damn good at winter sports. “Skiing and snowboarding are technical sports – you do need muscles to be able to control what you’re doing, but it’s not a musclely sport where it’s just brute strength that gets you through,” Anna explains. “There’s a really technical aspect which females can be really good at and that can be overlooked.”

Unfortunately? “There’s not enough girls out there, showing other girls that it can be done.”

So what advice does she have for young girls that are hoping to get into winter sports?

Just a bit amazing. Photo from Anna’s Instagram

“Seeking out a group of like-minded girls is always a good way to go about it – especially if you don’t have the money for coaching, which can be quite expensive,” Anna tells me.

“If you just want to be up on the hill improving your skills, seeking out like-minded girls and even guys and coaching each other is an awesome way to start because that’s how I learned a lot of my tricks – skiing with friends and them giving me advice and me giving them advice.”

And finding female mentors is important too. Anna tells me about her idol, Canadian skier Sarah Burke, who very sadly passed away last year in a skiing accident.

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“It was really a freak accident – training in the half pipe,” Anna says. “But from the first time I’d ever heard of free skiing she was in it and was really pioneering for the female side of it.”

“There wasn’t be a girl’s division in the US Open back in the day, and she would compete with the boys because there wasn’t a girls part to compete in. She’s also one of the people who really pushed for slopestyle and halfpipe to be in the Olympics.”

And it’s partly because of Sarah that Anna will get to compete at Sochi 2014 in her sport of choice. But what about after the Olympics are over?

“I’ve been studying at university since I left school – they’ve been really lenient and given me the last two years off, but I have to go back first semester of 2014,” Anna laughs. “I think it’ll be a good thing – from what I’ve heard from other Olympic athletes, the year after the Olympic year is quite a difficult one. Because the lead-up to the Olympics has been so focused and goal-oriented and everything’s been scheduled out and planned for them. And then it’s over in two weeks and it’s like – what do I do now?”

She’ll be doing Commerce and Arts at Monash University, to be precise. As well as being a bit of a back-up plan if skiing doesn’t work out, Anna explains that she also just really enjoys studying. “It’s going to be really good for me to go straight into something different and it’ll give my body a little bit of a time out, give me something to focus and concentrate on.”

And my last question for her – has she ever been tempted to cross over into snowboarding?

“Not really,” she says. “I do snowboard from time to time just for fun, just to cruise around but definitely a bit awkward on a snowboard.”

Keep an eye out for her on your televisions in February 2014. She’s going to be amazing.

If you’d like to check out Chicks with Stix, go here – they’re running free workshops at resorts around Australia on various weekends throughout the snow season. Their website says it all: “Girls are different to boys, but big mountains, mogul bumps, the half-pipe, aerial kickers and ski x burns and jumps don’t differentiate.” I’m going to sign up for the 18th August workshop at Perisher and attempt some rails, I think…

And if you want more snow talk – come back to Mamamia tomorrow for my post about 5 things you need to know before going on a skiing holiday – some tips from Anna are included!

And in other sports news from the week:

Sharelle McMahon

– Former Australian netball captain Sharelle McMahon announced her retirement from the game. The 35-year-old has played 118 games for Australia, won two world championships, two Commonwealth gold medals, five premierships with Melbourne Pheonix and one premiership with the Melbourne Vixens.

– Matildas player Sarah Walsh has signed up as a Female Player Mentor and Liason Manager for the Football Federation Australian. She’ll be able to nuture Austrlia’s future football stars and push them to the next level. Wlsh retired last year after being captain for the Western Sydney Wanderers.

– The World University Games finished up in Russia, with over 10,o00 athletes competing over 27 sports in 13 days. Australia took 151 athletes and won 16 medals. Samantha Mills, a 21-year-old from Adelaide, won the first gold medal of the Games, defeating two Chinese Olympians in the women’s one-metre springboard dive.

– Nareen Young has been appointed to Netball Australia’s Board of Directors. She is a business woman, a prominent diversity leader and Netball Australia says that she is “passionate about supporting women and women’s sport”.

– Kerry Chikarovski, former State Liberal Party Leader, has also been appointed to a board – the NSW Rugby Union Board. She is the second-ever female member of the board – the first was Sally Loane.

– Australia’s female water polo team – the Aussie Stingers – beat China 14-5 in their Group Stage game at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona. They also defeated South Africa, 16-1, and New Zealand, 15-4. The next game is on Saturday with the winner progressing to the Grand Finals.

– Speaking of FINA (the swimming governing body), they have ratified a move to introduce mixed gender relay events at major swimming championships from September this year.

– The Australian women’s national cricket team, the Southern Stars, are preparing to head over to the UK for their Ashes battle against England in August. They’ve got a serious chance of taking victory, so stay tuned.

– The Australian Open Women’s softball team, Aussie Spirit, won a a silver medal at the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship in British Colombia.

– Australian Olympic diving silver medallist Brittany Broben unfortunately missed out on getting through to the women’s 10m finals at the world championships.

Have you seen anything in the week’s sports news that you want to talk about?

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