Bermudian-born Matt Leseur is on the verge of achieving his dream of skiing at the Winter Olympics.
The freestyle mogul skier, who left the island at the age of 2, has earned Bermuda an eligibility spot for the Games to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.
Colorado-based Leseur, who turns 19 on Friday, met the standard in dramatic style at the World Cup in Ruka, Finland, this month, placing 29th to secure the top-30 finish needed to keep his hopes alive.
He must now wait until January 21 when he will learn whether Bermuda has been awarded one of the 30 Olympic-quota spots for his event.
“It was a very special moment for me,” Leseur said. “My qualifying chances are actually really high now. I wasn’t really thinking about [qualifying]. I was just thinking about how well I competed and that I’d made progress from my previous World Cup race [in Deer Valley, Utah, in February, when he finished 38th].
“It was a huge relief off my shoulders. I was really pleased with myself.”
Leseur has deferred his place at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, for one year to pursue his ambition of reaching the Winter Games. He will continue competing right up until the qualification deadline in an effort to enhance his chances by increasing his International Ski Federation ranking points.
“I’ve taken time off studying to pursue this Olympic dream of mine,” said Leseur, who graduated from the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, in Colorado, last summer.
“It’s opened a lot of opportunities for me and made it easier to make this qualification possible. We’re working out some details to see how I can get some more FIS points.
“We’re still erring on the side of caution and I’m going to keep competing as hard as I can to make myself more eligible and bring myself up in the standings.
“That’s what were working on, improving my chances to get my spot. We’re looking pretty good for Bermuda.”
Leseur will be hoping to join Tucker Murphy, his fellow Bermudian, in Pyeongchang.
Both athletes have been on a treadmill of travelling and competing for the past year, with Murphy, a cross-country skier, on course to become a three-times Olympian, having competed in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014.
“Hopefully we will both be going,” Leseur said. “We’re just both waiting to see whether we get that spot. He’s just told me to keep setting goals and chipping away at them. He’s also told me what it’s like being at the Winter Olympics, how it feels and what’s it’s like representing such a small country. He said it’s a great feeling.”
Despite leaving Bermuda at such a young age, Leseur says he still strongly identifies with the island and returns regularly to visit his grandparents, Paul and Penny, in Sandys.
“Bermuda is a huge part of me and I come back two or three times a year,” he said.
“I’ve been representing Bermuda for about four years now. I’ve worked really hard to get this opportunity and it’s definitely been a grind.”
Described as like “driving on a rugged road”, the moguls involves a one-timed run of skiing down a steep, heavily mounded course, stressing technical turns, aerial manoeuvres and speed.
For Leseur, it satisfies his needs as an adrenalin junkie, a characteristic he shares with his brothers. Christopher, 21, had to quit the moguls a few years ago because of injuries sustained after a skiing accident, while 15-year-old John also represents Bermuda in the sport.
“I started skiing when I was 2 years old and I’ve been competing in moguls since I was 8,” said Leseur, who has received funding through the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Solidarity programme.
“I used to be an alpine skier before I switched to moguls. The thing I love about it is that it’s very technical and strategical; it’s not like any other sport
“I just really like the challenge and it fulfils my adrenalin rush.
“I found it excited me a lot more than Alpine skiing and felt way more natural for me.”