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MIKIFREE TOGOFORGOLD Japanese freestyle skier Miki Ito, a fourth- year student at Chukyo University in Aichi Prefecture, aged 22, will compete in Vancouver. After having placed 20th four years ago in Turin, she believes that, with the help of an Olympic Solidarity scholarship, she is in with a shout of winning the gold medal. It is thanks to Ito's parents, both keen skiers, that she took up moguls skiing, as Fred Varcoe reports When did you start freestyle skiing? When I was nine years old. My parents are both physical education teachers and really like skiing. They would drive from Shiga to Hakuba, so me and my two sisters could go skiing. My father really liked moguls and this is how I and my older sister started doing little competitions just for fun. Where do you usually train? In Japan, we usually go to Fukushima or Hakuba. If we go overseas, it's different depending on the season. This sport needs snow, so we go where the snow is. In August, it was Australia; in October it's Switzerland. My favourite place for training is Japan, probably Hakuba as that's where everything started for me. Do you miss Japan when you are overseas? Yes, of course I miss it, but I got used to this life. I like going on trips and I love skiing, so it's a very good experience. When I'm not skiing, I just enjoy the other cultures and countries. Sometimes it's a bit confusing when you're travelling around the world, but I think I adapted well. And I've become used to different food, like pasta, bread and cheese fondue. How does the Olympic Solidarity scholarship help you? It is very important for me; it changed everything. I always wanted to get more training, to be more on the skis, but I thought it wasn't possible from a financial perspective. After having obtained the Olympic Solidarity scholarship, things became much easier. This year is special because it's an Olympic year, so I need as much money as possible for training. If I hadn't got the scholarship, it would have been difficult to manage. The scholarship even helps in being able to see the right doctor when I need care. It's been a lifesaver for me. Have you competed in Vancouver before? Last year we had a World Cup competition at the Olympic course in Whistler and I finished fourth. I like the city of Vancouver; it's a very nice town. Normally, we just see snow and hotels. But Vancouver is different and the people are lovely. Do you think you can win the gold medal? Yes, I think I can win it; my skiing is getting better and better, and my body is getting more solid. So, yes, I can win gold. MIKI ITO RISINGTOTHECHALLENGE You have been a beneficiary of the Olympic scholarship since March. How has it helped you for your biathlon training? Since I live in Sesvete, a suburb of the Croatian capital Zagreb, and my training takes place 130km away, the scholarship makes it easier to organise my travels properly. Is the scholarship also useful in the purchase of equipment? Biathlon equipment is relatively expensive and therefore the scholarship has enabled and facilitated the purchase of equipment necessary for training as well as competitions. Now, I participate in many more training sessions, the quality of the training is higher and this results in better performances. At the moment, you are training in Germany ( Ruhpolding). What is next? After training in Germany and an additional training week at home, I will take off for the preparations on the Dachstein glacier in Austria, at an altitude of 3,000m, where I will stay for at least ten days. Then, in early November, training will continue. I cannot say with certainty where it will be, it depends on the amount of snow, probably in Austria or Scandinavia. The season will be surely highlighted by the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. What are your expectations? The most important thing to me is to prepare to the best of my ability because the Olympic Games are the greatest and the most important competition for every athlete where he or she wants to do his/ her best. To be in good health, physically and mentally fit is of crucial importance to me. Growing up in the mountainous Gorski Kotar region in Croatia, Andrijana Stipanicic dreamt of taking part in the Olympic Winter Games. The 28- year- old biathlete has been the beneficiary of Olympic Solidarity since March this year as her dream looks set to come true. Having competed in nordic skiing as a youngster, she took up biathlon after university. At that time, it was a relatively new sport in Croatia but Stipanicic was attracted by the challenge, as she tells Gordana Gacesa ANDRIJANA STIPANICIC OLYMPIC REVIEW57 OLYMPIC SOLIDARITY