A 16-year-old Spaniard – who says that she is not at all photogenic and that she loves to suffer – at the end of January achieved something that no one had ever achieved before: three gold medals at the European Youth Olympic Festival (FOJE) in ski mountaineering. Her name is Laia Sellés and she won the individual, sprint and mixed relay events. Skimo –mountain skiing- will be Olympic for the first time in the 2016 Winter Games and Sellés, despite her youth, presents her candidacy. Experts say that she is the greatest Spanish talent in the discipline.
Born into a family of athletes -her parents met in the national cross-country ski team and her older brother is also part of it-, says Mari Paz, her mother, that when she was a baby they took her with the pulka a sled cart attached to the waist with a harness. “And she would fall asleep there with her pacifier. She has been on cross-country skis since she can walk. His first Spanish championship was won in fifth grade.
At the age of 11, her mother moved to Granada, Laia went with her and left Lles de Cerdanya. There she started ski mountaineering and got hooked. This is how she tells it by phone, from the Seu de Urgell, where she has spent two years in the modernization center as part of the national sports modernization plan. “Since there was no cross-country ski team in Granada and I wasn’t good enough at ten years old to train on my own, I switched to ski mountaineering. I met Kilian Jornet there, who is a great reference for me, and I said: come on, let’s try. And I was hooked.”
To what exactly? “Apart from the fact that as a child I have always loved the mountain for its ability to make me feel at peace and calm, it is that I also love to suffer, I love the suffering that the mountain gives, it is something different from everything else. I don’t know how to explain it, but I love it.” By listening to her talk about the demands of the training sessions and tests, she understands what she means. The individual is the queen test, she says, because it is the most similar to ski mountaineering. “It is a race of between one and two hours and it has everything: there are some that even have climbs with crampons, and doing zetas; descents or outside or inside track; usually the fun thing is that they are outside. He has a kick, he has absolutely everything ”. They carry a probe in their backpack, in case something happens so that it emits a signal that facilitates the rescue. “In that test we are also required to wear a thermal blanket, ID, a whistle, three layers on top and three on the bottom. And crampons in case they ask for them”, explains Laia
At their age, it is normal for athletes to do all types of ski mountaineering and specialize only when they go to the senior category. In Spain, she says, almost everyone is very good at sprinting -a four-minute race with skis in the backpack and a descent with doors in which sometimes they can also have jumps-, but she is the one who he likes less “The one with the most is the person, because she is less artificial, she is longer and has more of a head. In the races we train a lot, I don’t know if I’m the most, I do know that what makes me stand out the most is that I know how to manage my head very well: make my muscles feel good. I know how to be focused when I should be, I know how to control what is controllable and leave behind what is uncontrollable. It is very important, ”she details.
He works out in the gym three days a week, tries to ski five or six days and only rests one day, although on that rest day he takes the opportunity to go to the physio. She does it by combining classes. Jordi Martín Guillaume, head of the national sports modernization plan, says that Laia’s greatest virtue is commitment. “With sport, with herself and with studies.” How does she manage to juggle it all? The 16-year-old girl confesses that it is not easy at all. “Just before the FOJE, I was going through a pretty bad crisis because of that, because she couldn’t take it anymore and she felt that she didn’t arrive. There are some teachers who don’t help you much. There are a lot of exams and she was super stressed. She didn’t feel like getting out of bed at all, it’s hard to juggle it all. But hey, everyone will find their method to cope with it. In my case, well, I’m trying to apply for the institute remotely”.
And out of the corner of his eye he looks at the World Cup in Boi Taull that takes place between February 28 and March 4 and the 2026 Winter Olympics for which the classification criteria have not yet been defined. After the three golds in the FOJE do you feel the pressure? “I demand a lot from myself, I like to do it and I think I know how to do it well. Pressure is not a problem for me because I don’t like to focus on what others say or what they demand of me. If someone wants to make demands on me, I’m not going to listen to them, because that’s going to be detrimental to me and it’s going to make me hate sport. I prefer to think that if I lose, nothing will happen as long as I have upset myself well ”, he answers. It is one of the most valuable lessons that her mother taught her who, just before the first test at the European Youth Olympic Festival, sent her this WhatsApp: “Since you were very little you have been preparing this, now it is time to enjoy yourself and this. Trust yourself and enjoy because it will work out.”
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