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Skiing ace ends career on a high

Alex Heath is retiring from international skiing following the Winter Olympics. Picture: FRONIKA HEATH
Alex Heath is retiring from international skiing following the Winter Olympics. Picture: FRONIKA HEATH

FORMER Kent ski ace Alex Heath is set to retire from international ski-ing following his efforts in this year’s Winter Olympics in Turin.

He became one of an elite group of three South Africans who have represented their country in three Olympics.

Despite a bout of pneumonia in January, Heath, who used to live in Lyminge, surprised many at the Winter Olympics in the Giant Slalom when he finished 27th from a start number of 65.

In the field of 82 racers representing 46 countries nobody starting outside the top 30 was expected to feature.

Moreover, for this race, the Olympic "Sises" Giant Slalom course lived up to its reputation of being one of the most treacherous and challenging GS courses on the Alpine racing circuit.

The continuous changes of direction demanding exceptional ski control and quickness, that characterises the Giant Slalom discipline, is made that much more difficult by the extraordinary complex terrain.

It resembles in part a Super-G speed course except there are 52 turning gates to negotiate instead of the 30 in Super-G.

The start of the race had to be postponed by one hour to allow the course crew to finish clearing away the huge amounts of soft snow from the previous day’s storm.

Eventually though the race kicked off in minus four degree temperatures on a clean piste with hard packed snow.

It was soon clear, as racer after racer crashed out, that "Sises" was in control. A number of racers never even appeared over the ridge at the top to start the long descent to the finish. Crashing out soon became the norm.

Heath, though, made it look easy, skiing a clean run and fast enough to overtake racers ranked well above him to finish in 30th place – an improvement of 35 places. Only 47 of the 82 starters eventually made it to the second run.

Thirtieth place meant that Heath had to start the race for the 2nd run. This adds enormous extra pressure, not least because of the 'count down’ to the first racer.

A new course was set, this time with an increased number of gates from 52 to 54. There is a lot of time to think between the two runs. Heath has dreamt a long time of being able to start a second run at a major event.

Having come this far to then crash out in the even more demanding second run would have been devastating. Heath’s career has been beset by injuries and many more downs than ups.

It was for so many reasons then vital that he stayed on his feet. With the eyes of the capacity crowd on the first racer, absorbing all that extra pressure, Heath raced another clean run to finish in 27th place.

He has announced that he is start a new business venture in South Africa saying that his body just could not take any more punishment in top international racing.

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