Sildaru taking it ‘day by day’

In her first major competition since tearing her ACL at Cardrona last year, Estonian freeskiing...
In her first major competition since tearing her ACL at Cardrona last year, Estonian freeskiing phenom Kelly Sildaru says she is taking it "really slow" at the Winter Games as she eases her knee back into skiing. Photo: Sean Nugent
When Kelly Sildaru takes off from Cardrona’s 85ft big air jump this morning, onlookers will expect a performance that will blow away the rest of the competition lining up next to her in the junior world championships.

And why would they not considering the 16-year-old Estonian has won almost everything there is to win in freeskiing and has been rated as the future of the sport. She has competed against and beaten seasoned professionals, never mind up-and-comers still learning their craft.

But today is different.

This, the junior world championship big air qualifiers, is the first major competition she has had in almost a year since tearing her ACL on the same mountain last September, mere days after winning her first world cup gold medal at last year’s New Zealand Winter Games.

The injury ruled her out of February’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, where she was the odds-on favourite to break Estonia’s 12-year gold-medal drought.

She admits it was sad to sit at home and watch others take the medals, but knows she is still young enough to compete next time in Beijing in 2022, when she will be 20-years-old.

Although she has entered in three junior world championship events and the big air world cup this time around, she is remaining cautious and is not getting carried away with chasing glory.

"Right now, I’m just trying to get the feeling back after my injury and see how it goes day by day."

"It’s hard because I haven’t been skiing for nine months but I’m getting a good feeling already. It’s good; my knee is good."

No goals have been set. Instead the focus is on getting back to skiing competitively in all three disciplines  —  slopestyle, halfpipe and big air.

Her father, Tonis, said for her to compete at a high level in all three freeski disciplines was a strength but also a weakness.

"I think it’s a strength to be able to do different stuff and it helps her [as an overall skier] but also it’s hard because sometimes you can have the official halfpipe training right before a slopestyle final."

Aside from her obvious talent, Sildaru also has a competitive advantage over many others.

She is no stranger to New Zealand shores.This is her fifth season training and competing at Cardrona and she admits she is "nervous and excited" to get back out on the slopes she describes as "the best place to ski at this time of year".

In a recent video blog post online she described New Zealand as being "pretty much like a second home".

She is oozing talent and knows the snow like the back of her hand, but maybe, just maybe, someone not named Kelly Sildaru could walk away with the gold.

The junior world championship freeski and snowboard big air qualifiers start today at Cardrona Alpine Resort from 9am. The finals will be held tomorrow afternoon.

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