Australian athletes keen to play their part as bushfires dominate thoughts

LAUSANNE, Jan 9 – Australian Alpine skier and ski cross racer Zoe Michael will compete for all those affected by the bushfires affecting her homeland when she takes to the slopes at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games.

The 17-year-old, who is the only Australian contesting two disciplines in Lausanne, revealed that she is finding it hard to think about anything else.

“It’s always on my mind, it’s incredibly devastating,” Michael said as she prepared to carry the Australian flag at the Opening Ceremony.

“They are always in my heart. I don’t think any of us ever really stop thinking about the firefighters and everyone else.”

Despite the agony, Michael - who is a contender in Lausanne having won three FIS (International Ski Federation) titles among six top-three finishes last year - is taking great comfort from the way the nation is coming together.

“It’s cool to see Australia uniting, we are all holding each other up,” the teenager said. “Everyone here has families and close friends affected and we are all trying to do our best and do what we can to help.

“It shows how strong the Australia connection is, we have that bond and we know that we will stand side-by-side even through the worst.”

The same message is coming straight from the top with the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) outlining its two-pronged response to the disaster on Thursday.

In addition to a 100,000 Australian dollar donation to the Red Cross Bush Fire Emergency Appeal, which will go towards supporting thousands of people in evacuation centres across the country, the AOC also has a number of ongoing, long-term projects aimed at easing the suffering.

“The power of sport to bring hope and inspiration is something every Olympian holds dear and the overwhelming message that we have from Olympians is that they want to help with recovery in any way they can,” said AOC President John Coates.

Two-time Olympic snowboarder Ben Mates has become one of the faces of sport's response to the crisis with the Torino 2006 and Vancouver 2010 half-pipe competitor on the frontline as a firefighter.

With resorts such as Falls Creek and many of those around Alpine hub Jindabyne having already been evacuated, Michael knows life will not return to normal for the foreseeable future. But she is equally aware that a medal might just help the smiles return a little quicker.

“I am going to go as hard as I possibly can, I am going to use everything I have,” she said before the women’s Super G on Friday. “Since I was young my one goal has been to get to the Olympics and it’s so cool to be here, at a mini version of what I want so much.”

Zoe Michael in training at Les Diablerets Alpine Centre | Simon Bruty for OISphotos.com

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By Olympic Information Service

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