UEA is fast gaining a good reputation in university sport, but with Norwich’s temperate climate, few would associate it with international snow sports. One student, however, is trying to change that.
First year law student Giorgos Kakkouras, 20, is a rising star in the world of Downhill Skiing, and one of UEA’s 36 current Sport Scholars. The Cypriot sat down with Concrete to discuss why he chose UEA, how he balances sport and education, his achievements so far and his hopes for the future.
We started by discussing his disciplines: ‘I do Slalom and Giant Slalom. In Slalom there’s a shorter distance between the gates, it’s the more technical discipline which means you have to be fast and quick. In Giant Slalom you get more speed. Gates are not so close and it’s also one of the most technical disciplines.
‘There are two other disciplines, which I don’t do, Super G and Downhill, which are the fastest. I stay toward the more technical disciplines.’
He’s happy to pick a favourite: ‘Giant Slalom. I’m better at it, and my best achievements have been through it, so I tend to like it more!’
With Cyprus hardly being synonymous with snow sports, how did Kakkouras get into downhill skiing? ‘It’s a question that I’m asked a lot as I’m from a country where snowfall is very minimal. I started around four or five years of age with my family, just going abroad and having fun on holiday.
‘I got into it slowly and went to some races in Cyprus at the age of about twelve. I was going well [so thought] I’d try it [more seriously]. I got into the national team and started going abroad every month. It’s still going, we’ll see until when!’
On recent performances, the future is looking bright. Kakkouras spent part of February competing overseas in the World Ski Championships in Are, Sweden. Kakkouras placed 57th in the world in Giant Slalom and 74th in Slalom, a similar result to what he achieved two years ago at the last world championships, where he placed 56th and 70th.
He explains: ‘I was in Sweden at the Alpine Skiing World Championship Qualifiers, I managed to get to the finals in Giant Slalom, which was a great achievement for me and everyone around me that supports me.’
So, why did he choose UEA? Partly, there’s the Commonwealth to thank for that.
‘I wanted to do Law, that was my priority and I couldn’t go to the US to try to get a scholarship because it is a different legal system to Cyprus and England – we have a common legal system because of the Commonwealth. I wanted to find a university in the UK that cares about sport, and I found UEA. It was a great opportunity for me so I tried to get in here. For balancing sports and Law, I think UEA is the best.
‘It’s a great university, everyone is so friendly here. My flatmates are good, where I live is good, I like what I study, I don’t have any problems.’
Kakkouras also speaks highly of the UEA Sport scholarship programme, which has recently been looking for new applicants for next year as it expands. There are two types of scholarships, ‘Elite’ and ‘Developing Excellence’, which both offer a package of support and funding including access to sports facilities, strength and conditioning, physiotherapy and lifestyle support to allow scholars to reach their full potential.
He said: ‘The scholarship helps me mentally and physically. Physically, it gives me access to the gym, swimming pool and whatever I need to train. Because I stay on campus everything is close and I get everything I need. Mentally, they give me the chance to go to workshops, last night we had a confidence workshop. There are many that I attend to help me get a good mindset for the races and training.’
Talking to a sports scholar, the question of balancing study and training was always going to come up: ‘It is quite difficult but I think if you balance it well, and the spare time you have, if you don’t spend time doing things that won’t help you, it’s fine.’
So, what’s Kakkouras’ training routine like, considering the lack of snow in these parts? ‘Because in my sport I cannot train on an everyday basis, I try to be more physically prepared for when I go abroad and train,’ he says.
‘There is a dry slope here in Norwich and every Wednesday we go as UEA Snow to train there. The other days I train at the gym or swimming pool and try to be physically prepared for the days I’m going to be training on snow.
‘I try to go abroad whenever I have a break from university. I went in December for 20 days, I went for 25 days in February, in April I hope go to France for some British university races. Next season will start in summer with some training camps abroad. I will try to take the opportunity during that time in summer when we don’t have to study to go abroad and train.’
As he touched on, Kakkouras is a member of the UEA Snow club. He says: ‘They were very friendly and helped me from the start with whatever I needed. Whenever I have any questions, they sort them out immediately. I’m very happy with the guys.’
Kakkouras has represented Cyprus at events around the world. For an international athlete, Concrete asked if pulling on his country’s kit was the pinnacle, and Kakkouras agreed: ‘I think it is the best feeling for me. It is what I dream of, it’s one of my main goals to represent Cyprus at the highest level. It’s an honour for me. I want to bring Cyprus as close as possible to the usual competing nations like Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France, participating in the main events.’
When asked about his career highlight to date, Kakkouras is as sure as when choosing his favourite discipline, replying without hesitation: ‘It’s the world championships two years ago in St. Moritz, Switzerland and this year also. To be in these major events back-to-back is a lifetime goal.’
What about the future? ‘My ultimate goal is the Olympics, and these World Ski Championships are a step on the way. My next goal is the Olympics and I will do my best to go there. It’s my dream and I will fight for it.
‘The Olympics are in 2022, which is a year after I graduate. There are world championships every two years, so they will be in my third year. I will try to get as few points as possible to try and qualify for the qualification stage of the world championships in two years.
‘My mind now is on the Olympics. I’ll try to achieve the criteria that will get me a ticket to the Olympics.’
And if he does, he could well become UEA’s most celebrated sporting alumnus and join the university’s small but distinguished handful of sporting graduates that includes GB Rower from Beijing 2008 Natasha Howard and UEA Law graduate Jess Draskau Petersson who ran for Denmark in the Marathon at London 2012.
Already blazing a trail, Giorgos Kakkouras is looking forward, both in sport and academia.