ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Canadian cross-country skier Ivan Babikov is looking forward to the rare treat of taking part in a second successive “home” Olympics as he returns to compete in Russia, the land of his birth.
The 33-year-old, born in the Russian Republic of Komi, emigrated to Canada 11 years ago but due to the complicated eligibility rules of his sport continued to represent Russia, and wore that nation’s colors in the 2006 Olympics.
After finally being granted Canadian citizenship he then raced for his adopted country in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Four years on he is back in Russia, putting his body through the rigors of his sport to represent Canada.
“In a way, this is my second home Olympics in a row,” he told reporters on Thursday as he prepared for Sunday’s 15km+15km skiathlon race.
”Of course the feeling is a little unusual, but the strangest thing for me is when I start speaking to the volunteers in Russian, when I am wearing a Canadian tracksuit.
“I would say, overall, everything here is great. My team mates and I really like being in Sochi and I cannot say that I have experienced any problems.”
Babikov is pleased with the cross-country track and says it will present a real challenge to athletes who are among the fittest of any sport.
”The track is certainly technical and is not easy, but that is great,“ he said. ”There are some great descents and a lot of turns. I know a lot of competitors were disappointed that at the ‘Laura’ complex, there were a number of difficult climbs.
“However, people are saying these were put in especially for the Russians. This will not be a problem for me because everything will depend on how good I feel on the day.”
In the Olympic Village Babikov regularly meets opponents from the Russian team.
“I often chat with Nikita Kriukov and with Aleksey Petukhov,” he said. “I know they are really excellent sprinters, but every sportsman’s legs hurt after a race. No one believes that anyone is unbeatable. Anyone can win.”
Babikov, who has never been on a World Cup podium with a best finish of fourth back in 2005 and a fifth at the Vancouver Games, says he is perfectly placed to make an impact this time.
”I would not say that I am 100 percent,“ he said. ”However, I have three days to prepare for my race. The Olympics last two weeks and you do not want to reach peak form too early.
”Everything is going to plan. The most important thing is not to worry and not to burn myself out.
“I will be happy if I ski to the best of my ability and give my all. Of course every sportsman wants to win a medal and be on the podium and I believe I have a chance.”
Editing by Mitch Phillips/Peter Rutherford