Talented sisters face uphill Olympic task

For most of us, skiing constitutes a leisure activity more than a sport, but for Cork sisters Claire (15) and Isabel (13) O’Leary it could be the ticket to representing Ireland at the Winter Olympics.

The sisters, who lived in Germany for seven years, have been skiing competitively since the age of six and, having relocated to Cork in 2007, show no sign of slowing down.

Claire has just returned from the World Schools Championship in Italy where she was part of a five-girl Irish squad racing teams from across Europe.

The competition took Claire a step closer to her target of reaching the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Qualification for the event requires her to pick up as many points as possible from international competitions.

The team struggled in tough conditions and Claire was the only one to successfully complete her race without missing a gate. While it was a disappointing trip for the Irish team in general, it was a successful outing for Claire, with the Mallow native returning with points to her name.

Claire’s age enables her to compete in more competitions but younger sister Isabel has already impressed in the one underage tournament this year.

Competing against skiers from across the globe at the Andorran Underage Championship, Isabel placed 15th, 20th and 22nd in three races, proving she has the potential to follow her sister to the Olympics.

Both are members of Ski Club Ireland based in Kilternan and their mother Christine chauffeurs them to Dublin every weekend for training.

“They’re very committed girls for such a young age,” she said. “They’re so passionate about it. There’s no problem getting them up at 5am on a Sunday morning to go to Dublin.”

However, the constant travel involved in training and competing bares a considerable financial burden and Christine admitted, despite the support they have received from the girls’ school (St Angela’s on Patrick’s Hill) without sponsorship the girls will never be able to fulfil their dreams.

“Without sponsorship there is absolutely no way Claire can make the 2014 Olympics. It boils down to money, if she has the money she can do the races and the training.” she said. “It’s an elite sport but we’re not rich, the girls just have skiing in their blood.”

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