SA ski champ Sive's big blow

Yoliswa Sobuwa

AN EASTERN Cape skier does not know whether he wants to continue with the sport after South African officials refused to send him to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Sive Speelman, of Barkly East, was the only South African to qualify to represent the country at the games next month. But the 18-year-old will not compete because the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) believes he does not have what it takes to bring back a medal.

It has been a hard blow for the Barkly East High School Grade 11 pupil, who had to repeat Grade 10 last year after dedicating lots of time to practising for the games.

"I have put in a lot of effort and dedication. I don't get their reason to deny me the chance to participate in Sochi, because I qualified. I believe they should have given me a chance to prove myself," he said.

"However, I no longer know if I want to continue skiing. All my efforts have gone to nothing."

Speelman fell in love with skiing in 2003 after meeting his coach Alex Heath, a former South Africa Winter Olympics competitor.

"I was with a friend when I met Heath. I was so inspired by his story, I decided to join their skiing club."

And – apart from his doubts now – Speelman never looked back.

In 2007, he was one of three South Africans to attend the Korean Dream Programme, an annual winter sports youth festival, in Pyongyang. He is also an SA Junior Champ who has won both Alpine disciplines – slalom and giant slalom – at the 2011 SA National Alpine Ski Championships.

The decision to not send him comes as a blow. In December Speelman's childhood friend, Aviwe Ndoweni, died while attending circumcision school. "We were more like brothers. He is the one person who always put a smile on my face. At a time like this he would know what to say to make me feel better."

Heath said he was as devastated as Speelman. "This is very sad for him. He has invested so much time and effort to improving his skiing skills, only to be told he is not good enough. This is despite the fact that he qualified. It is very sad. We worked for years to achieve this."

Speelman's principal, Francois van den Berg, said he had worked "very hard for 10 years to get to the level he is at right now".

"He had to sacrifice a lot. It was only going to cost them two return tickets for both Speelman and his coach. The rest was going to be taken care of by the Olympics organisers," he said. "Speelman doesn't deserve all this negativity around his skiing career. He is a very pleasant guy with a lot of potential."

Sascoc spokeswoman Jessica Choga said the decision not to send Speelman to the Olympics was made on the recommendation of the High Performance Advisory Committee.

She said he achieved 140.26 points – the minimum qualification is 140 on the Olympic International Ski Federation point list – and was ranked 2290th in the world.

The Sochi Winter Olympics will run from February 7 to 23.