Belfast Telegraph

Sochi 2014: Flo Bell ready to hit the slopes

By Frank Brownlow

Flo Bell will have plenty of support in Belfast and Mid Ulster when she takes to the slopes at the Winter Olympics which start in Sochi tomorrow.

Flo – at 17 years old, one of the youngest skiers at the Games – is from Birmingham but is representing Ireland due to the fact that her father, Brian, is originally from Tandragee and attended Lurgan College before going to university in England.

Flo's grandfather, David Bell, lives in Belfast.

Flo – currently studying for her A levels – also had the unusual experience of having to battle it out with her 18-year-old sister Victoria for a place at the Winter Olympics.

Flo pipped Victoria for Ireland's only slalom/giant slalom place.

"We are best friends and we knew from the start (of qualifying) the way that things could turn out," explained Flo.

"Obviously Victoria is happy for me but I suppose it's been a bit of a bittersweet experience for us both," she added.

"We've been racing against each other on the international circuit for the last three years.

"Sometimes she wins and sometimes I do – it can literally be just hundredths of a second between us – it's that close."

Flo started skiing on family holidays almost as soon as she could walk – but it wasn't love at first sight.

"I hated it at first," she revealed.

"But then you get used to it and it kind of becomes second nature."

Flo developed her technique on an artificial slope near the family home in the Midlands and started racing when she was 11, progressing to British underage squads before declaring for Ireland.

Flo represented Ireland at the inaugural World Youth Olympics in Innsbruck in January 2012.

"I was very honoured to have been selected and I had a wonderful experience," she said.

"The 2012/2013 season was good for me and I currently have the lowest Slalom and GS points in Ireland.

"I was excited to represent Ireland once again at the European Youth Olympics in Romania in February 2013. I finished the season off in Japan where I scored a personal best of 62 points in both Slalom and GS."

Flo attended a recent Team Ireland press conference in Dublin – only for her father to receive a text from her school enquiring why she wasn't in class.

It had been a breakdown in communication – Flo's Winter Olympics commitments had already been agreed with her headmaster.

"I'm really looking forward to it, although I don't really know what to expect," she said.

"But it will be a wonderful experience.

"I'll hopefully get to a few more Games in the years ahead.

"It's not easy combining all the training with my studies and I'm managing okay.

"I haven't really decided what to do after my A levels.

"Maybe I'll concentrate on the skiing."

Incredibly, Flo is not the youngest member of Ireland's five-strong team for the Winter Olympics, although she is the only one still at school.

US-born snowboarding prodigy Seamus O'Connor is just 16 but is a full-time athlete.

O'Connor, who won several prestigious titles on the junior snowboarding circuit before he went senior, has the best ranking and reputation, but is still regarded as a medal long-shot because he is still so young.

He was born in San Diego and is based in Utah and, while his father Kevin grew up in Britain, his dad's parents hail from Dublin and Drogheda, Co Louth.

"I was always known to everyone as the Irish-American kid growing up," he said.

O'Connor's mother Elena is Russian – her parents live only 100km away from Sochi – and both his half-siblings were born there and speak fluent Russian.

"When we heard the Olympics were going to be in Russia my dad got the idea that it would be quite poetic if I were to ride for Ireland – the country where his family is from – and compete in Russia, where my mother's family come from," said the teen star.

The team also includes Irish-Canadian Sean Greenwood (26), whose mother Sibeal Foyle emigrated to Canada in the early '80s.

He competes in the skeleton, at which Clifton Wrottersley almost took a medal for Ireland when he was fourth at the 2002 Games.

Also included is cross-country skier Jan Rossiter (26), an Ontario native.

Slalom skier Conor Lyne (20) put his mechanical engineering studies on hold to train full-time for the last two years.

His parents – his father is from Kerry and his mother from Limerick – met in UCC and eventually settled in Utah.

Lyne has spent most of his summers and also the last two Christmas holidays with relatives back in Ireland.

His rugby-playing cousin Michael Mullally plays centre for Munster's U-19s.

"I would not consider anywhere else to be home," Lyne said.

"Ireland is the only country I could represent because I'm only an Irish citizen, I'm not a US citizen.

He added: "I've a lot of pride in my country."

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