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Cross country skier Ochirsukh Adiyabaatar is halfway through a self-imposed, semi-sabbatical from the sport he loves. Guided by his mother, the 18-year-old has agreed to focus on his studies before returning to the slopes with a vengeance next year and attempting to qualify for the Olympic Games.
One year on from representing his country at the Youth Olympic Games, Ochirsukh Adiyabaatar is negotiating the tricky but crucial balance between his studies and his sport. It is a factor no doubt familiar to many of the 1,067 athletes who competed in Lillehammer.
“Since the YOG my mother wants me to focus on my studies. She thinks it is very important for my future,” said cross country skier Adiyabaatar, who had a best finish of 41st in the 10km event at the YOG. “So for this year I am taking a year off from training and focusing on my studies.”
The 18-year-old who has ambitions of one day competing at the Olympic Games, is showing a startlingly mature attitude to his sabbatical. “My mother is right. Even if I want to ski I have to think about my studies. If I continue with my career as an athlete and enter many competitions, after I am done what am I going to do with my life? You need education for applying for a job,” he said. “She wants me to study well and then after I can ski all I like.”
As a result, this season Adiyabaatar trains at the weekend and has only entered national Mongolian competitions. It is not harming his form too much, with a recent fifth place in a seniors’ event prompting him to consider that he may even have improved.
Naturally however, he finds it hard to watch those YOG competitors who are on the slopes fulltime. “On Facebook they are like ‘I just did 50km training and now I am ready for competition’. I look at them and get jealous,” Adiyabaatar said. “I really want to race with them, I want to know how they improve. I want to know how good an athlete I am next to them. It makes me cringe. I really want to ski but right now I can’t.”
Adiyabaatar, who is aiming to be an electrical engineer once he has fulfilled his sporting ambitions, has recognised that he needs the academic focus this year in order to make his second career a reality. “To tell the truth, it is hard. When I was in high school I was mostly focusing on skiing and training and I totally forgot about my studies. And now I am trying to study I need my high school knowledge,” he said.
Under the terms of the deal he has made with his mother, Adiyabaatar will join the majority of his nation’s fellow cross country skiers in the capital Ulaanbaatar next year. He will then combine studying with intensive training.
While the teenager is occasionally concerned that he is being left behind, with his competitors’ personal best times “getting better and better”, Adiyabaatar is confident that he has plenty of room for improvement himself. “I believe I can be in the real Olympics. I feel I can do better. I didn’t reach my limit yet. Maybe after two or four years I can do better, maybe I can get quicker and compete more,” he said. “I just need to wait until next year.”
On occasion the Mongolian even remembers that there are some advantages to being part-time. “I am not on that diet anymore,” he admitted, having caught plenty of attention in Lillehammer last year after revealing that he was on a strict, carrot-based vegetarian diet. “I am enjoying the moment and eating a lot of meat. Mongolian traditional food, it is full of meat,” he laughed.
Other pleasures exist too. He likes to take his school friends out to the mountains and teach them to ski. And he also has a trove of special memories to draw upon. “From the moment I got there you meet a lot of athletes, participate in a lot of events. It is hard to choose only one memory. Racing was the best experience if I had to choose one. You had the (Youth) Olympic champion right there and I was racing with him and I know him now,” Adiyabaatar said.
Not bad motivation, for when this student returns to the race track full-time.