Friday, August 16, 2002 - Athlete Perspective
Skiing Kiwi Style

By: Sara Renner

New Zealand is crazy about rugby, net ball and cricket. At this weeks National Cross Country Championships the local female athletes, or should I say athlete, was noticeably outnumbered by foreign racers from Canada, Germany, and Japan. Katerina (Samantha) Bondarenko hopes to put her country on the Nordic map and she will likely do it on her own. The seventeen year old is currently the only women from New Zealand to compete internationally.

New Zealanders are outdoorsy folk and seem to enjoy a healthy tramp (hike) in the mountains and are open to trying new things. They did invented bungee jumping and river surfing after all. Nordic skiing is a relatively new sport here and the public got their first chance to try it in 1989 when the Waiorau Snow Farm opened. Since then numbers have been on the rise but there is lots of room for growth. The problem is that there is only one cross country ski venue and no population base to support clubs to compete against each other. Like Canada, Nordic skiing doesn’t seem to be an interagral part of the culture. But that doesn’t mean it can’t change. There is potential for a good domestic program but to succeed internationally would require moving to the Northern Hemisphere for the winter.

In contrast, the alpine slopes are packed with tourists and the surrounding towns have strong local racing clubs. When the Canadian Alpine Team trains here the only time they can have hill space is in the wee hours of the morning. Kiwis have had success on the Alpine World Cup circuit with Claudia Reigler snatching multiple podium finishes.

Samantha’s start to skiing was a chance encounter. At her high school she came upon brochure advertising a five day skiing scholarships at the Waiorau Snow Farm. She lived four hours away from snow and had never cross country skied before. Her introduction was a painful one and it wasn’t until she discovered skating that she got hooked. Now she aims to be “the best that New Zealand has ever had and to prove that countries asides from Europe can win”. Similar aspirations as the Canadian Women’s Team, Samantha!

She spent last winter in the US and Germany and keeps up with her high school through correspondence. Her goal is to race in the World Junior Championships in 2004 and eventually go to the Olympics. She is the New Zealand Ski Team and says that training can get lonely. Luckily, the Lee family, who run the Snow Farm, are her major supporters and a second family. Her mom is her travelling wax technician.

Samantha is a Nordic pioneer in the Southern Hemisphere. I hope she takes the All Blacks out of business.

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