Arthur’s Seat is perfect for Winter Olympic training for Callum

Callum Smith (Getty Images)
Callum Smith (Getty Images)
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The occasional sight of a begoggled athlete pushing his way around Arthur’s Seat on wheeled skis is beginning to make sense.

Early next month, cross country skier Callum Smith, a chemical engineering student at Edinburgh University who uses the undulating terrain around the iconic park as a training aid, will fly out to the Sochi Winter Olympics boosting the already three-strong Team GB contingent with Lothians connections comprising of free-style skier Murray Buchan, curler Vicki Adams and speed skater Elise Christie.

Selection is the culmination of a 14-year journey for Callum, who took up skiing aged eight and is justified for suspending studies so as to give himself every opportunity to be selected at the beginning of this week.

“It’s brilliant to have made it onto the team,” said Smith, adding: “I’m very excited. I took the year out of university with the hope of qualifying, so I’m so pleased and relieved to have made it.

“I actually qualified [with a time] in December, [but] my place was by no means certain.

“I was delighted to have this confirmed. It was just as well, because I was already on the plane to Manchester for kitting out before the official news!

“I’m not going in with a placing in mind as I’ve never been before and I’m not entirely sure what to expect. It’ll be a case of putting in my best performance and see what happens on the day.”

While Smith, who will be competing in the 15km classic and the skiathlon, which involves skiers completing a 30km course, stopping halfway through to change from classic skis to skating skis, is new to the Olympics, he has plenty of top-level experience.

One of his career highlights is listed as “racing in Oslo in 2011 in front of 100,000 spectators” and in these World Championships he came second in the small nations qualification race, going on to compete in the sprint, 15km time trial, team sprint and the relay.

Two years earlier, Smith was Britain’s highest-ever finisher in cross-country skiing at the European Youth Olympics. The following season he was, among other achievements, first in the Swiss Campra Cup for under 18s, second in the Swiss national under-18 championships and the British rollerski senior men’s champion.

Fresh from races in Chamonix and Leysin where, in two Swiss Championship races, he finished seventh and sixth respectively, he is currently in Misurina, northern Italy, preparing for the World Under-23 championships next week before heading for Sochi on February 3.

Italy has been a home from home of late, Smith having raced in Trentino in December at the World University Games before remaining in the country over Christmas for three weeks of altitude training.

He added: “I’ve not been home (to Inverurie) for Christmas for the past seven years as, with school and then university, the winter break is the time when you don’t have any other commitments, so you can take advantage of the time in the snow.

“My family are used to me being away, but both my parents have been out to watch me competing.

“When I get home from the Olympics, my brother and I are going to go on a cookery course; that will be my Christmas and birthday present rolled into one as I was away for my birthday too.”

As for those roller skis which have attracted many quizzical glances from passers-by, Callum, who is assisted by the Winning Students scheme which provides scholarships to around 160 recipients, believes that Edinburgh is the ideal training base when he is not abroad.

“What’s great (about Edinburgh University) is that there are always lots of people to train with, which is still important for me even though I compete in an individual sport,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of cross-country skiers, so having people to even go running with is great. And there are always strength training sessions on that I can go to.

“The city is in a good location too; it doesn’t take long to get to the Pentlands to go training, which is a fantastic location.”

Meanwhile, Callum’s new Olympic kit could not have come quickly enough – as he blogged this week, saying: “Having worn the same three T-shirts for the last two and a half months I’m a little overwhelmed with the 12 or 13 new T-shirts and goodness knows how many jackets I now have to try out!”