After a storm on the race course, a quiet Christmas

Eleven starts in 15 days. After such a race series in Sweden, Rokas Zaveckas set under the Christmas tree a spectacular Christmas gift—an Olympic qualification.

—Marius Grinbergas, sportas.info
Rokas training in Argentina
Rokas training in Argentina

For the past half year, 17-year-old Rokas Zaveckas has been like a guest in his own house. From a camp at the end of June on an Austrian glacier, the road to the Sochi Olympics took the skier from Vilnius to South America for two months. There he participated in an International Ski Federation (FIS)-sponsored training camp in the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, and also started 11 races in Argentina and Chile.

Upon his return to Europe, the skier spent just a couple of weeks in his birthplace before leaving again. This time, a month of training in the Alps. In the three weeks before Christmas, Zaveckas was absorbed in a race marathon in Sweden, where he reached his most important career goal—Olympic slalom and giant slalom qualification standards.

Zaveckas, who trains with his father Giedrius Zaveckas, didn’t hide that in his bid for Olympic qualification, not everything went according to plan.

“There was quite a lot of tension, and it didn’t go very well. At the beginning in Sweden he was very nervous. We came there really distracted—maybe he was affected by the early media attention in Lithuania,” said G. Zaveckas.

Zaveckas had only this summer on the slopes after a very difficult injury to return to the Olympic standard—five results under 140 FIS points during the qualification period, which began in South America. But he had lacked a successful performance in giant slalom, and three in slalom.

In the first three races in Sweden, two slalom and one giant slalom, Zaveckas didn’t score. He didn’t finish two of the races and was disqualified in the third—the judges said he missed a gate, however the skier said he had completed the race without any mistakes. In the fourth race, it seemed that luck had passed the Lithuanian by—he skied out of the course. But finally, he finished a race successfully, and reached Olympic qualification in giant slalom.

When the tension subsided and the athlete realized that even not particularly good results passed the selection limit, Zaveckas immediately managed to reach the Olympic slalom qualification standard as well, and deposited under the Christmas and impressive Christmas gift: the opportunity to start in the Olympic games.

Of course, Zaveckas will still have to wait for the official ticket to Sochi—the Lithuanian Olympic committee will make the final selection on Jan. 19. However, the 17-year-old’s results qualify under the main selection criteria—FIS points, which are calculated by the time difference from the race leader—and are clearly better than the country’s other Olympic alpine skiing candidate, Aivaras Tumas. Only one Lithuanian skier will start the Olympic men’s alpine skiing events. In the women’s Olympic alpine skiing events there will also be one Lithuanian, 19-year-old Ieva Januškevičiutė.

Rokas Zaveckas and Ieva Januškevičiutė.
Rokas Zaveckas and Ieva Januškevičiutė.

“Together with the Januškevičius family we formed a club, Hobby Sports. Ieva traveled with us to Sweden. We are really rooting for her, because we are like a team,” said G. Zaveckas.

After the race series in Sweden, the Lithuanian returned to his homeland, where he celebrated Christmas in a cozy circle of family. Of course, every day he was home, Rokas was still training—running, training in the gym, and skiing at Druskininkai’s Snow Arena.

“There are still a lot of things to do, and not a lot of time. At least there was a little bit of respite, relaxation for the body and the brain. Since that race marathon—11 starts in 15 days—was really tiring. And then after the race we had to pack our things and drive to the next location, every day we had training and after that, races,” explained G. Zaveckas.

Shuffling his son around to so many countries and mountain resorts, competitions, making training schedules, ans coaching him during trainings, the businessman joked that he was often asked if he could be a professional driver, trainer, psychologist, tour operator, or a cook.

“I could probably be everything, except the cook. It’s clear that in this area I have only remedial skills. Sometimes we bring groceries from Lithuania, but usually we buy them locally,” said G. Zaveckas.

The schedule until the Olympic games is nearly completed. On Jan. 2 the two Zaveckai will return to the mountains. Although it’s still not clear to which country—it will depend on where there is enough snow, in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, or Austria, where he will start the next FIS races. If snow is lacking, they will head back to Scandinavia.

“We won’t be satisfied to simply pass Olympic qualification. Until Jan. 19, we want to minimize our FIS points in order to secure the best start position in the Olympics,” explained G. Zaveckas.

The fulfillment of Olympic qualification slalom and giant slalom is equally important in both events for Zaveckas, although he has better results in slalom.

“Rokas is always stronger in slalom, since we’re able to train that in Lithuania. But in giant slalom, there is often a greater chance of finishing, since slalom sometimes takes not only skill but also luck,” said G. Zaveckas.

If there is snow on the slopes of Lithuania, from Jan. 20 until the trip to Sochi, where the Olympic games start Feb. 7, Zaveckas will most likely be in Lithuania. He will expect to spend that time not only making the final preparations for Sochi, but also studying at Vilniaus Šv. Krostoforo high school. The athlete often studies remotely, but whenever it’s possible, he attends classes at the school. However if winter continues to elude Lithuania, Zaveckas will stay abroad right up until the Olympics.

Dalia Zaveckienė will also be keeping a close eye on Rokas’s Olympic debut. But she will most likely send her husband and son to Sochi, and stay at home alone—without accreditation, it’s possible to see more of the race on television than at the Games, where you can see only small areas of the track or the finish. Rokas’s sister Greta will also have her fingers crossed in front of the TV; she knows very well what sport is—she spent some 10 years as a competitive dancer.

“For Lithuania to compete in alpine skiing at the Sochi Olympics will be exceptional. After all, for our country, where this sport is exotic, there will even be two representatives. In addition, there are more alpine skiers who have fulfilled the Olympic qualification standards and have earned the right to travel to the Olympic games—Aivaras Tumas and Karolis Janulionis. We have something to boast about!” said G. Zaveckas happily.