The exercises and drills that the good ear, nose and throat doctor put his son and daughter through as children led, in due time, to daughter Ani making it to the Winter Olympics as a member of Armenia’s four-member team.
“It’s kind of funny,’’ 21-year-old Ani Serebrakian said in an interview with the Chronicle Olympic Bureau. “My classmates said this day was coming.’’
It’s here. Ani marched in Friday night’s Opening Ceremonies at B.C. Place Stadium with her three teammates, the sixth country in a roll call of 82 countries to have their moment in the indoor spotlight.
Serebrakian, a sophomore at the University of San Francisco, will race under the colors of Armenia in the women’s giant slalom on the 24th and the slalom on the 26th at Whistler. Her Armenian parents were born in neighboring Iran and emigrated to the U.S. more than 30 years ago.
Armenia, competing as an independent nation since 1994 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, has never won a Winter Olympic medal.
“I’m kind of still in awe that I’m here,’’ she said. “I’m not surprised, but it hasn’t hit me yet. I’m just really enjoying the whole thing. My whole goal was to make it to the Olympics. Qualifying for it, I feel I’ve achieved so much already. I’m excited to ski with the best in the world and do my best.’’
Like other athletes in Vancouver, and really, anyone involved in the Olympics, Serebrakian was saddened to hear of the death of Georgia luger Nodar Kumaritashvili earlier Friday in a training accident.
“We were so upset and sad when we heard,’’ she said. “It was great that they even came to the ceremonies. We’re going to go over to their team and offer our condolences.’’
After marching into the stadium and taking their seats, Serebrakian said she was so moved by the events of the day that “I sat down and cried.’’
Serebrakian’s two slalom events are considered safe by skiing standards as they require technical skill in negotiating around the gates with proper form and efficiency rather than a healthy dose of courage.
“Slalom is my favorite,’’ she said. “I just really enjoy the whole thing. It’s very quick. You’re hitting the gates. It’s very therapeutic to me. It’s almost like boxing, because you’re hitting the gates as you go down hill. Just like boxing with any kind of aggression or anger, you want to win, so you put it out there.’’
The young woman seen smiling and holding a small Armenian flag in the Opening Ceremonies has been preparing for this moment since she was 2 years old, when her father put her and her brother Armon, now 22, on tyke skis at North Star at Tahoe. Dad had his kids racing when they were 5.
Once she mastered the kids’ hill at North Star, Serebrakian moved on to Squaw Valley, where she continues to train.
“My dad got my brother and I skiing as soon as possible,’’ she said. “He himself was a skier. He’s a very athletic person. One of the things he liked about skiing was it was for the whole family. Eventually he saw we were good enough learning to ski that we started racing at age 5.’’
As kids, Ani and Armon were running up a hill outside their elementary school at their father’s urging and later on going through drills in their middle school gym before the first bell rang.
“They would open it specifically for us so we could use it,’’ she said of the school’s gym. “We’d whine, but we’d go. He’d get us donuts afterward.’’
Serebrakian grew up American in every sense and excelled in school and on the tennis courts. However, a recent visit to the old country kindled in her a sense of what it was to be Armenian.
“The whole idea to go for the Armenian team began two years ago when we visited the country for the first time,’’ she said. “We kind of fell in love with it. That brought us to qualifying for the Olympics and here I am.’’
Serebrakian said her brother, who lives in Boulder, Colo., is also an accomplished skier. He fell short of qualifying for the Armenian team, however, spoiling what would have been a great story of skiing siblings.
“I’m kind of in awe that I’m here,’’ Serebrakian said. “I’m very privileged. Very privileged. I’m really enjoying the whole thing. My whole goal is to make it to the Olympics, qualifying for it. I feel I’ve achieved so much already. I’m excited to ski with the best in the world.’’
For that, she can thank her taskmaster father.