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UNSW’s Winter Olympics: Meet Callum Watson

Meet Callum Watson

In the latest series of UNSW students moonlighting as Olympians, Callum Watson talks to Ammy Singh about the travels and travails of cross country skiing, the Olympic dream, and life as a greenie.

Q: Your parents put you on skis as soon as you could walk. What has it taken for you to get to this level?

A: I can honestly say that making it to this level has been a dream of mine for more than a decade. I have spent the last 5 years so focused on this goal that a day never really passed without me thinking about it at least once. For a dream that long ago seemed so far away to finally become reality is what makes it all feel worth it.

 Q: What’s the toughest part of cross country skiing?

A: The toughest part of cross country skiing is definitely the aerobic demands and the level of pain you need to put yourself through to achieve good results. It hurts, but if you finish a race and know you haven’t pushed yourself to the absolute max, the disappointment is far worse.

 Q: The Norwegians are incredibly obsessed with cross country skiing. What’s it like over there with the way they approach the sport? Have you ever caught sight of the fabled Norwegian wax buses?

A: Cross Country Skiing is Norway’s Number 1 sport. Whenever I am there for training and racing, it shocks me to see just how serious everyone is about it. In the Oslo World Champs 50km, the crowd reached a record 110,000 people and this is by far the most incredible atmosphere I have ever experienced from a crowd. Their budgets are incredible – just one of their 3 waxing trucks are worth upwards of $6 million dollars. This makes it hard to compete, but I am proud of what we are able to achieve with the resources we have available.

 Q: You currently hold the Australian record for maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max level). How long until your VO2 max level passes Norwegian legendary cross country skier Bjorn Daehlie’s record? Will you be a superhuman then?

A: That’s a funny question! But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a goal of mine. Surprisingly, each year I have continued to see big gains in my VO2 max, so I will definitely see what I can produce in the next few years as I continue to adapt my training to try and get closer to the top of the sport.

 Q: Both you and your sister are incredibly talented off the slopes as well. She’s a qualified vet and you’re studying engineering. What made you pick engineering, and what’s the biggest insight that it’s given you?

A: Thanks, that’s very kind! Well, I chose it because I have a passion for the environment. I have spent so much time training in the bush and National Parks, and feel it is so important to conserve these fragile environments. Problems arise in everyday life, and studying engineering has taught me a lot about good methods to best approach issues.

 Q: Getting back to UNSW, you were the cross country male champion at Unigames for the last 3 years. Will you be back in 2014?

A: I will be back for 2014 and love the team atmosphere UNSW has every year at Winter Unigames. I think every year we are becoming more successful as a team and I am very keen to see what we can do this year!

 Q: And lastly, a fun question we ask everyone at Tharunka: if you ruled the world, what would be the first major change you’d make?

A: I would make it impossible to destroy any unique environment in the world, no matter how much economic benefit it may have.

Ammy Singh