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Studious skier set for Winter Olympic debut

23 January 2014
Callum Smith competing at the 2013 World Cup in Lillehammer. Photo courtesy of Huntly Nordic Ski Club.

Callum Smith competing at the 2013 World Cup in Lillehammer. Photo courtesy of Huntly Nordic Ski Club.

A Chemical Engineering student has swapped his Bunsen burner for a set of skis and qualified for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

University of Edinburgh student Callum Smith will compete in Cross Country events in Russia having taken time out from his studies to secure a place on Team GB.

The 21-year-old, from Inverurie in Aberdeenshire, will return for the third year of his course in the autumn, but not before his Olympic bow.

“It’s brilliant to have made it onto the team,” said Smith. “I’m very excited. I took the year out of university with the hope of qualifying so I’m so pleased and relieved to have made it. I’m not going in with a placing in mind as I’ve never been before and I’m not entirely sure what to expect. It’ll be a case of putting in my best performance and see what happens on the day.”

Smith’s main events are the 15km Classic and the Skiathlon, which involves skiers completing a 30km course, stopping halfway through to change from classic skis to skating skis.

He is currently in Italy enjoying some final preparations, with the World U23 Championships also in nearby Trentino starting on Monday, before heading to the south west city of Sochi. Italy has been a home-from-home of late, Smith having raced in Trentino in December at the World University Games before remaining in the country over Christmas for three weeks of altitude training.

Smith added: “I’ve not been home for Christmas for the past seven years, as with school and then university, the winter break is the time when you don’t have any other commitments so can take advantage of the time in the snow.

“My family are used to me being away and we don’t tend to have a big family Christmas anyway. I’ve actually not been home since November, but both my parents have been out to watch me competing.

“I’m quite into cooking and on Christmas Day I cooked a leg of pork with rosemary and garlic, but there was only a little stove to work with. When I get home from the Olympics, my brother and I are going to go on a cookery course; that will be my Christmas and birthday present rolled into one as I was away for my birthday too.”

When back in Scotland, the former Inverurie Academy pupil trains out on the public roads using roller skis, a sight which often provokes quizzical glances from passers-by, especially on Sunday mornings around Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.

Smith is one of around 160 students to be supported by Winning Students, Scotland’s national sports scholarships for student athletes. He receives funding support and the academic flexibility required to perform at the highest level in both his sport and his studies.

“Winning Students is the most significant funding contribution I receive and has been very important for me, especially this year,” said Smith. “I’ve been able to spend it on travel costs to get to training and competition.

“And the study support is huge too. It was surprisingly simple to take the time out this year and the university has been really good with me over the last two years when I needed time for world championships. I always take work away with me, even now when I don’t need to be studying, I’ve my Chemical Engineering books with me just to keep my mind occupied and not totally lost in skiing.”