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Strong southern winter has Kovacs edging towards PyeongChang goal

Published 26 September 2017 (AEDT)

Paul Kovacs compete during the Kangaroo Hoppet Cross Country Ski Race on August 26, 2017 in Falls Creek, Australia. © Getty Images

CROSS COUNTRY SKIING: He went close to qualifying for Sochi but now Paul Kovacs believes he is the best position of his career to push for a debut Olympic berth.

The 26-year-old who grew up close by to Falls Creek has had one of his best southern hemisphere seasons to date as Australia’s leading PyeongChang 2018 hopefuls fought it out in a series of events on home soil before heading to New Zealand.

“This season was really successful for me,” said Kovacs.

“It certainly had it's ups and downs, but overall it was great with some big personal bests and really solid results.

“My sprinting has come a long way this year and to win the classic sprint time trial at Nationals was a big indicator of that. To win the time trial, knowing it's one of the events I'm hoping to race in at the Olympics was a massive confidence boost.”

Kovacs finished third overall in the Australian, New Zealand Continental Cup behind Sochi 2014 Olympians Phil Bellingham and Callum Watson and now has his sights sets on a target that has been many years in the making.

“For almost as long as I can remember I have wanted to go to the Olympics.

“I remember some of the athletes that went in the early 2000's and when I heard them talk about it as a boy I was hooked straight in.

“I was overseas with the team in 2010 when the seniors were all competing to qualify. I wanted to join them so badly.

“After I missed qualification for Sochi, I promised myself never to let that happen again and I hope to be there in South Korea in less than 150 days.”

That Olympic goal Kovacs believes is now closer than ever.

“I think I'm on the right track and I think a lot of other people do to.

“If I ski as I have been doing in Australia and keep the quality high, then I believe I'm right on track to qualify for the games. I know it can sound a bit arrogant, but this time I feel like I've put in the hard yards.

“I'm right up there with the other guys who previously went and I believe I have what it takes.”

Having returned to Australia to take advantage of the amazing 2017 snow season Kovacs is about to head north and continue chasing winter.  

“Just before the start of October, I'll fly to Anchorage, Alaska to begin my final preparations.

“Hopefully they get early snow again, so I can jump right back onto snow and keep skiing. Alaska is where I'm based for a lot of the year, so I'll just be shifting from one home to the other and I hope to have a massive training period before travelling to Europe.”

It is in Europe where Kovacs will compete alongside his Australian teammates as they all look to push towards PyeongChang.

The Australian team appears to have more depth than ever with a number of athletes in contention for Olympic berths.

“I think in general there is a lot of positive energy and excitement amongst the team.

“I think a lot of the boys are feeling like they are in good shape and this might be their year to take another step forward and really bring it up a level on the World Cup and Olympics.

“There is always that extra nervous energy being an Olympic year too. Everyone knows there are only a certain number of spots up for grabs, so people are anxious to snag one of them. But I think as a whole the mood is pretty good at the moment.”

Australia will be looking to qualify 4-5 cross country athletes for PyeongChang 2018. We first competed in the sport at the 1952 Oslo Games, when Cedric Sloane and Bruce Haslingden lined up for Australia, and have had a total of 18 Cross Country Skiing Olympians.

Matt Bartolo

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