SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s former Alpine skier Nikola Chongarov ‘Chongi’ came out of retirement to pursue another Olympic dream, this time in ski cross, a relatively new discipline he believes is more aligned with his rock ‘n’ roll style.
Chongi, an adventurous music-lover, decided to hang up his skis after competing in five Alpine skiing events at the 2014 Games in Sochi, where he bore the Balkan country’s flag during the opening ceremony, only to rediscover his passion for skiing a couple of years later.
“There is nothing like Olympic Games, it happens only once every four years and it’s really amazing,” Chongi told Reuters.
“I spent 20 incredible days in Sochi, you meet all these athletes and immerse in an incredible atmosphere. So, I’m doing my very best to compete at the (2018) Games in South Korea.”
The Bulgarian ski federation, however, could not provide enough money and Chongi turned to crowd-funding, fixing his eyes on becoming the first Bulgarian athlete to compete in the timed racing event, which is often considered part of freestyle skiing because it incorporates similar terrain features.
Chongi has to overcome a number of difficulties on his path to South Korea - “the toughest fight of his career”. Yet the obstacles have had a positive effect on his morale and even increased his determination.
To save money, Chongi did not hire a coach and travelled by car more than 2,600 km to Sweden to compete in a World Cup ski cross event. In order to be guaranteed qualification for Pyeongchang, Chongi needs a place inside the top 32 of the world rankings.
“I travel alone, I train alone and I’m even preparing the ski myself,” the 28-year-old said. “Sometimes, it’s very difficult and it takes a lot of time. It takes sweat, hard work and sacrifice to achieve the goal. And the goal is the Olympics.”
Such is his passion for skiing in South Korea, Chongi, who formed a rock band last year, said he would gladly write a song on his guitar for someone who helps him in his brave attempt to raise money.
“I know I’m crazy, the idea (to compete in Pyeongchang) is crazy but ski cross is also crazy,” Chongi said. “The crazier something seems, the more I believe it is possible.”
With some of the traditional winter sports audience ageing, Chongi believes that events like ski cross would attract more young and eccentric people like him.
“I want to compete in a discipline, which is much closer to my rock ‘n’ roll nature. The ski cross is much more risky and dynamic and it’s interesting to watch. Ski cross is the discipline that suits my style.”
Chongi, who holds a leadership and management degree, started skiing when he was three-years-old, though he experienced his first downhills a year earlier, peeking out of the backpack of his dad - a former volleyball player.
“He’s quite a character. Chongi has quite constructive thinking and always has his own point of view and it helps him in sport,” Vladislav, the drummer of Chongi’s rock band Chongi & The Smokers, told Reuters ahead of the band’s live performance in the southern city of Plovdiv.
The concept for ski cross originated in the late 1980s when sports marketer Jim Essick wanted to create an event which would make ski racing more exciting for spectators, similar to motocross, where four skiers would race head-to-head on a course, rather than one at a time against the clock.
Bulgaria is not normally associated with success in winter sports with Ekaterina Dafovska still the country’s only winter Olympic champion after winning the women’s biathlon 15-km event in Nagano in 1998. However, many believe that Bulgaria’s capital Sofia, located at the foot of the Vitosha mountain, could host a Winter Olympics.
The Black Sea state failed in bids to host one of the world’s biggest multi-sports events in 1992, 1994 and more recently 2014 but the ambition remains.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Christian Radnedge