Miki free to go for gold
Japanese freestyle skier Miki Ito, a fourth-year student at Chukyo University in Aichi Prefecture, aged 22, will compete in Vancouver. Four years ago in Turin she placed 20th and in March 2009 she won the silver medal at the 2009 FIS World Freestyle Championships on her home ground in Fukushima.
Fair enough Miki 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.
Go where the snow is
"I started freestyle skiing when I was nine years old" says Miki and adds: "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."
In Japan Miki usually trains in the ski areas of Fukushima or Hakuba, but also spends a lot of the year overseas: " 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" says Miki.
The Olympic Solidarity scholarship has enabled her to optimize the training: "The scholarship 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."
Lovely Vancouver people
Vancouver is not a new ground for Miki: "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." For the Olympic Games, which are less than 20 days away, Miki aims high: "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."
About Olympic Solidarity
Olympic Solidarity is an IOC organisation, and the body that ensures that athletes with talent, regardless of their financial status, have an equal chance of reaching the Olympic Games and succeeding in the Olympic arena. It is responsible for administering and managing the National Olympic Committees (NOCs)' share of the revenue from the sale of broadcasting rights to the Olympic Games. Working in particular with the most disadvantaged NOCs and their Continental Associations, Olympic Solidarity uses this money to develop a range of assistance programmes. Besides individual scholarships for athletes, there are also "Team Support Grants" to support ice hockey and curling teams likely to qualify for the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.
The total budget for the 2009-2012 Olympic Solidarity quadrennial period amounts to USD 311 million. Within this budget, USD 61 million is earmarked to provide support to athletes.