EMILY SARSFIELD has expressed her “absolute devastation” at missing out on selection for next month’s Winter Olympics, but is hoping a late rethink could still enable her to compete at Sochi.
Brancepeth-based Sarsfield, who was unable to compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver after suffering a serious accident in the build-up to the Games, was omitted from the 56-strong squad that was announced by the British Olympic Association (BOA) yesterday.
The 30-year-old was the only Briton named among the 32 ski cross competitors to have been formally selected to compete in Sochi by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), under the guidance of the International Skiing Federation (FIS), after a lengthy qualifying process that ran throughout the World Cup season.
But the BOA, under the instructions of British Ski and Snowboard, have informed her that her qualification does not satisfy their own selection criteria, and as things stand, her Olympic place will pass to a rival from a different nation.
Sarsfield, who does not receive a penny of central funding from UK Sport, lodged an appeal when she learned of British Ski and Snowboard’s decision on Tuesday.
That appeal has been rejected, but the North-Easterner is hoping an ongoing dialogue with the authorities could still enable her to realise her dream of competing on the Olympic stage.
“I was absolutely devastated when I was told of the news,” said Sarsfield, who is a five-time British champion and who finished 17th at last year’s World Championships. “I’ve hit every performance standard that was asked of me, and achieved every target I’ve been set in this Olympic cycle.
“I’ve even got a letter saying I’ve made all the performance goals. I’ve had three top-24 finishes, which is what was required, and achieved way beyond what was wanted.
“The discrepancy has come because of the interpretation of what automatic selection means. The BOA and British Ski and Snowboard seem to be interpreting that differently to everyone else, and that’s what’s causing me problems.
“Hopefully, there’s still time for things to change and I’ll be able to compete. After all the time and energy I’ve invested into this, not to mention the money I’ve had to find myself, it would break my heart to see six or seven people competing in the Winter Olympics when I know I’m ranked higher than them.”
The Olympic regulations dictate that the top 32 in the world rankings will compete in the women’s ski cross event at Sochi, but there is a limit to how many competitors from each nation can take part in the Games.
Sarsfield is currently ranked 34th in the world, but both Canada and Switzerland have four competitors ranked in the top 20, a number that exceeds their quota for the Games.
Once national limits have been taken into account, Sarsfield rises to 27th in the rankings, a position that has resulted in her receiving a slot at the Games.
However, British Ski and Snowboard are claiming that her selection is a “second invitation”, and their regulations prevent anyone who was not chosen at the first time of asking from competing in Team GB.
“Emily has made the Olympic qualifying criteria – in fact, she made them quite a while ago,” said Betony Garner, a spokesperson for British Ski and Snowboard. “For a lot of the winter, she was in the top 32, but in recent weeks she has slipped out of the top 32.
“When the FIS last published their rankings on January 20, she did not meet the qualifying criteria we had set. That was the reason she wasn’t put forward by British Ski and Snowboard.”
Sarsfield’s response is that the January 20 rankings did not take account of national quotas, and her position had changed once the FIS released a list of skiers eligible for the Games.
However, there appears to be little chance of either British Ski and Snowboard or the BOA backing down, meaning the British champion’s chances of making the Winter Olympic start gate are slender.
“The whole thing is a complete mess,” said Sarsfield. “But I’m just hoping everyone sees sense and the issue is resolved.
“It doesn’t help that I’m currently over in Austria competing because I need to stay sharp and get as much competitive practice as possible ahead of the Games if I’m going to be able to do my best there. I’m having to do all of this over the phone, although I’m lucky that my sister is out here with me and she’s trying to do what she can too.
“It just seems like it’s one person’s interpretation of a grey area in the rules, but it might end up robbing me of everything I’ve worked for during most of the last decade.
“If I’d had a dreadful season and not hit any of the targets, I could accept not being able to compete in the Olympics. But the total opposite has occurred. I’ve had pretty much the best season of my life and I know that if I go to Sochi, I’ll be able to compete with anyone else in the field. The stupid thing is, I’ll be ranked higher than quite a few of them anyway.”