Macedonia sends professional soldier-skier to Sochi

12/02/2014

A member of the Macedonian army, Darko Damjanovski, is competing in the Olympics for the third time.

By Biljana Lajmanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 12/02/14

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Macedonian biathlete and cross country skier Darko Damjanovski is competing in the Olympics for the third time. [Darko Damjanovski]

Darko Damjanovski has been to the Winter Olympics twice before, but the 32-year-old cross country skier from Macedonia enters the 2014 Sochi Games in a position he has not previously experienced.

Damjanovski and alpine skier Antonio Ristevski became the first two Macedonian athletes to qualify for the Winter Olympics under the A standards in their sport, meaning that their performances met the highest Olympic qualifying standards set by the International Ski Federation.

In the weeks leading up to the Sochi Games, Damjanovski engaged in final preparations by training in Planica, Slovenia. In his previous two Olympic appearances, Damjanovski finished near the bottom of the standings in the 15-kilometre race, but there is optimism as he makes his third Olympic appearance. He will compete in the 15-kilometre event on Friday (February 14th) and the 50-kilometre event on February 23rd.

"It is really rare that a Macedonian athlete enters the Olympics, even the Summer Games, with an A-norm," said Vlado Panovski, vice president of the Macedonian Ski Federation. "Our skiers were close several times, but now we finally have them. Maybe we don't expect spectacular results, but even their participation at this level raises our rating in this sport."

Damjanovski said it was not easy to achieve the highest qualifying standard.

"For me, it means eight years of hard work, many hard trainings, missing out on a lot of things. But with hard work everything is possible, you can achieve everything, even an Olympic medal," he told SETimes.

Damjanovski said he sacrificed nightlife, family and friends in pursuit of his sport aspirations.

"It's just that kind of sport that you have to be absent from home a lot. But at the same time this sport has helped me in communicating, meeting new friends worldwide," he said.

Although he tried basketball, football, boxing and kick-boxing, skiing was always the first choice for Damjanovski. Born in Mavrovo, the mountainous region in western Macedonia, he first tried alpine skiing, but later gravitated toward the cross country discipline. His biggest idol was the Norwegian cross country skier Bjorn Daehlie, winner of seven Olympic gold medals.

Damjanovski is employed as a professional soldier in the Macedonian army. He said he is grateful that he has the support from his colleagues, the Ministry of Defence and the army chief of staff, because he frequently must be absent from work. He made his Olympic debut in Tornio in 2006 and returned to the Olympics in Vancouver four years ago.

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"The Vancouver Games were definitely better organised. But it was more interesting for me in Torino. Those were my first Olympics, I was the national flag bearer at the opening ceremony," he recalled.

He has several pieces of advice for his less-experienced colleagues at the Olympics. He said that as a representative of one's country, it is important to be well-behaved at the Olympics. But he also mentioned the value of being communicative and open to new friendships that will last long after the event.

Damjanovski said he expects extremely high security measures in Sochi, especially after warnings of potential terror attacks that came in the weeks prior to the opening ceremonies.

"Personally I am not a least bit afraid, because I know the security level at these events. Also, if there is some kind of a threat and I notice it, I can even help to prevent it, I am well-prepared for this as a professional soldier in the Macedonian army," he said with a laugh.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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