24 Jan 2019

Sport: Tongan skier back in action after injury

2:41 pm on 24 January 2019

Tongan skier Kasete Naufahu Skeen has his sights firmly on next month's Alpine World Championships after making a successful return to the slopes at the weekend.

The 36-year-old was forced to give up his Winter Olympics dream 15 months ago after rupturing his right anterior cruciate ligament during training in New Zealand.

A ruptured ACL has ended Kasete Naufahu Skeen's Winter Olympics dream.

A ruptured ACL has ended Kasete Naufahu Skeen's Winter Olympics dream. Photo: Facebook/Kasete Naufahu Skeen

Despite the giant slalom competitor finishing dead last in his return to racing in Sweden over the weekend, he said it was an encouraging start.

"I'm not the world's fastest skier but at the same time I've got my own goals," he said.

"Often I think alpine skiing it's a sport where really you compete with yourself to better yourself and so I felt that I gave a reasonable account of myself and I'm happy with that.

"I feel like I've got a good base to build on now because before the injury I was skiing really well, which was kind of more of a shame to me in a way - or the biggest disappointment about the injury was how well I was skiing before it happened.

"Since December a lot of my focus has been on just trying to regain that form and to find that feeling again, and I think in the last race (in Klövsjö, Sweden) I felt the progression was there basically so I've got another two races next weekend that I'm hoping to enter and I'm hoping to progress again."

Skeen was born and raised in London but his father's family are from Vava'u and Tongatapu.

Tongan skier Kasete Naufahu Skeen after his first race back in Klovsjoe, Sweden.

Tongan skier Kasete Naufahu Skeen after his first race back in Klovsjoe, Sweden. Photo: Royal Tonga Ski Federation

He has since moved to Åre in Sweden, which just happens to be where the 2019 Alpine World Ski Championships will get underway on 4 February.

"It's also the place where I rekindled my love of skiing, on a family holiday with my girlfriend's family, and it's kind of completing the circle in a way," he said.

"I came here to train in preparation for the 2017 World Championships and I'm back here again for the 2019 World Championships so it's kind of like a marker in my history of skiing and it's a pretty special place to be."

Skeen failed to finish at the 2017 World Championships in St Moritz, where his performance was hampered by a fractured hand, after crashing out on his second qualifying run.

But, less than two weeks out from a second chance, he believes he's in the best shape, both mentally and physically, of his life.

"It wasn't until actually after all that healed up that I realised how much it kind of affected me," Skeen reflected.

"It sounds kind of obvious to say that a fractured hand is going to affect you but when you're so focused on just doing your task you don't necessarily have that space to step back and reflect but now I definitely feel like I'm skiing with a sense of freedom that I didn't have before.

"It's easy to kind of get hung up on maybe the knee injury but I've been really confident in my recovery and in the job that the surgeons did and my physio so that's not really a problem for me now either, it's just about skiing as best as I can."

Kasete Naufahu Skeen made his comeback in Klövsjö, Sweden.

Kasete Naufahu Skeen made his comeback in Klövsjö, Sweden. Photo: Instagram/Kasete Skeen

Skeen, who has retained his FIS qualifying points from prior to his injury in 2017, will compete in the giant slalom qualification race next month in a bid to qualify for the World Championships main draw.

He described himself as "older and wiser" than the person who made his World Championships debut in St Moritz two years ago.

"Åre is a place that I'm much more familiar with and I think I'm someone who I don't have the experience of nearly all of the others skiers here who have been skiing since they were children," he said.

"It's really difficult when you come to the mountain and it's the first time you've seen the mountain and it's the first time you've skied on that slope or been in that environment, so Åre is a place that I've been to quite a few times now and I'm living here and I'm skiing here everyday so it's really one of familiarity.

"I had quite a lot of nerves in 2017 and I think I'll be a bit more relaxed and hopefully that will bode well here in Åre."

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