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06.02.2014, 15:07
Referee Ralli races in Russia
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FEATURE: How the 25-year-old Sophia Ralli brings a touch of handball to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi
 

Referee Ralli races in Russia

Back in December last year Sophia Ralli had to make a choice. Together with her twin sister Christina (pictured below, left) she was nominated, as both are part of the European Handball Federation’s Young Referee Programme, for the Lunda Spelen, an international youth handball tournament in the Swedish city of Lund.

But Sophia Ralli could not go, because when the nomination arrived the 25-year-old was already in the middle of her preparations for a sport event arguably a bit bigger: the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

And it all proved worth it, as Ralli made the team and will now represent her country in alpine skiing as one of only seven Greek athletes to participate at the Sochi Olympics. It is the second time she made it to Olympic Games, after she already competed for Greece four years ago in Vancouver.

"After 17 years of hard work and intense training, and after being Greek Champion for several years in a row with some first positions in international events, my goal is to represent my country in the Winter Olympics for the second time, where hopefully I can achieve a good position through a decent performance."

In 2010 in Vancouver Ralli competed in the slalom (finished 47th) as well as the giant slalom (finished 53rd). One year later she whistled her first international handball matches when she and her twin sister were nominated for the Cell-Cup in Veszprem.

Adrenaline and power

But how did the unusual combination of professional handball and professional skiing came together in the first place?

"In 1994, my twin sister, Christina, and I, decided to follow in the footsteps of our older sister, who was already a handball player, also with the national team. We participated in various junior categories as well as in the national team.  This sport literally won us over," explains Ralli.

"As for skiing, in the city where I grew up (Naousa), there are two ski resorts nearby. In 1997, I enrolled with a club and started learning. I chose these two sports because, whereas on the one hand, skiing is an outdoor, individual sport and full of adrenaline, handball is a powerful team sport."

Becoming a handball referee was then a natural choice for Ralli who calls it “the result of my deep love for the sport of handball”. Furthermore pursuing handball that way allowed her to stay in touch with skiing at the same time.

"Nothing in life is easy, let alone managing two careers at the same time. But when you have the will, faith and strength you can combine them both, perhaps at the expense of your personal life," Ralli acknowledges.

"However, it becomes tricky when the two professions coincide chronologically, and decisions need to be made.

"Until recently, sports were my full-time profession. Since about a year, I have been serving in the Coast Guard and at the same time, I am a third-year student in the Department of Physical Education and Sports at the University of Thessaloniki.

"I dedicate quite a lot of time in sports, since my work allows me the flexibility of time off."

Promoting handball

Her two Olympic events, the slalom and the giant slalom, are scheduled for the second Olympic week, the former for 21 February, and the latter for 18 February.  

And when she comes back to Greece afterwards, she hopes she wants to switch her focus to handball again.

"I hope that 2014 will be the year when I can really focus on handball, and together with my twin sister, Christina, help promoting the sport."


TEXT: EHF / ts
 
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