Andorra, population 77000, now has its first world class skier.
Meet Irineu Esteve Altimiras, 22
This summer the young Andorran finished 18th at the Lysebotn climb, that highlight of Blink Skifestival. To put it in perspective – right behind Olympic champion Iivo Niskanen and well ahead of, say, Maurice Manificat and Denis Spitsov, both world class “climbers”.
We absolutely had to catch up with Irineu before the season kick-off
– How long you have been doing cross country skiing, who brought you into it and, most importantly, why did you choose to do that not exactly the most popular sport in the Pyrenees?
I started with alpine skiing when I was about 12 years old, at that time I did not like the cross country ski, but my parents woke up every weekend to practice this sport. At last one day I had gone with them and – fell in love. Since the age of 15 I run for NEC (cross country ski club of Andorra).
I like to train in my country , in Andorra, because the mountains are spectacular. We are lucky with La Rabassa, our ski track – we have fantastic views.
– You are only 22 but you are, most likely, the best skier ever to come from the Pyrenees. You compete on equal terms with the world’s best U23 athletes and, increasingly, “grown ups” to. Who is your coach – and what are your career sporting ambitions?
I have had 3 coaches in all these years and all the good things are thanks to them!
My current coach is Joan Erola, I think he is one of the best trainers in the world because he knows what you need – and a person who you could explain everything.
I want to become the best skier I could be, but I what I really would like is to win Tour de Ski, I have always loved that racing series – even if I haven’t participated in one yet.
-What’s your favorite distance and style ?
At the beginning I liked skating more, but the last three years I am more comfortable in classic style, the distance go from 15km to 30km, and obviously I discard sprints because I’m very bad at that.
-What’s your particular strength, you think? For instance, Martin Fourcade, your neighbor across the mountains, is outstanding both uphill and, especially, downhill because he grew up practicing them every day in Ceret.
I think I’m good downhiller especially on technical circuits. In the World Cup it is difficult to find technical circuits but there are many in the European Cup. I like the long climbs and technical downhills.
-Your Lysebotn climb result this year is remarkable. Is that something you do a lot – mountain uphills training?
Hahaha, in Andorra there are mountain passes everywhere. We can only train climbs an descents, because we live in a country that doesn’t have any flat surface. That’s why I did well in the Lysebotn climb!
-In Lysebotn everybody was in equal conditions i.e had the very same rollerskis. But in the World Cup the Norwegians, the Russians, the Swedes etc. will bring their wax trucks, their army of technicians and waxers…How strong, how talented you have be to compete against skiers who have such a support?
It is true that we do not have big structure but I think there are other important things such as experience and motivation. My coach and my waxers have these two things, there are persons who love this sport and who spend a lot of time thinking and preparing to fight against the best teams.. So we have no excuses for not producing best results!
-How does your example, first real elite class skier to come from Andorra and the region as a whole, affects the popularity of XC skiing at home?
A few years ago we had a Paco Soulié in the world cup and his sister Laura in biathlon, they open the door to XCskiing in Andorra because it’s the sport that few people know down there. I think we are working well with young people and more and more children twant to practice skiing, so we can be happy with this.
-That “human flag” stunt looks quite something Is that a good illustration of your personality = do something others do not?
Yes, I think a little bit. I am a person who loves to spend free time with good people, friends… and if possible, to do a few crazy things, it is always fun.