Blazing New Trails for Armenia’s Olympic Skiing

PHILADELPHIA, Pa.—The road to Sochi may be high and mighty but Arman Serebrakian is prepared to take his leaps and bounds. His passion is skiing. His intent? To bring Armenia a skiing medal in the 2014 World Olympic Games in Russia—or at the very least, some credibility in the sport.

 Arman Serebrakian is full speed ahead in his quest to bring Armenia a skiing medal in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Arman Serebrakian is full speed ahead in his quest to bring Armenia a skiing medal in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

One might think it’s been all downhill for the 26-year-old aspirant. When you haven’t competed for two years because of injuries, people get skeptical. But Serebrakian has the talent and the resume to fill the role.

Over the past seven years, he’s been the top-ranked Armenian alpine ski racer in the world, even during his lapse. As of April, he was listed at the summit. He’s had 4 Top 10 NCAA finishes while competing for the University of Colorado, where he made the All-Academic Ski Team, served twice as captain, and one year as an assistant coach.

A dual citizen, Serebrakian is currently a medical student at Temple University School of Medicine, having just completed his second year and waiting to go into surgery medicine.

When his father took him down his first slope at the age of two, Serebrakian immediately fell in love with the sport. Growing up, his Armenian parents continuously took him and his sister Ani (2010 Vancouver Olympian) to the mountains in Lake Tahoe, Calif., every weekend in high school.

Arman decided to graduate early to focus solely on skiing with the goal of pursuing his lifelong dreams—making it into the World Cup circuit and eventually the Olympics.

“My father was the biggest influence of my life,” he says. “He’s skied his entire life. My grandfather was one of the first to ever ski in Iran. Many role models inspired me along the way, including Italy’s Alberto Tomba. My sister and I were always on the same club teams. Even though we’d never admit it, there was always an unspoken sibling rivalry there. We traveled together, stayed together, skied together.”

Ani did her collegiate skiing at the University of San Francisco and was one of four athletes to represent Armenia in Washington in 2010, along with Sergei Mikaelian, Kristine Khachatryan, and Arsen Nersisyan. Don’t be surprised to see her in Sochi.

“Realistically, there’s a very good chance,” says Arman. “I need to be ranked among the top 500 in the world, which is where I was at the end of my collegiate career by Jan. 24. Many people have asked me why I’m doing this. I still have my deep passion for the sport and I’ve continued to train. I grew up as one of the top-ranked junior skiers in America and want to give it my best shot.”

He spends five to six days in the gym, while balancing a heavy academic curriculum to become a surgeon. Starting in mid-July, je needs to do a month-and-a-half in New Zealand where the best summer conditions are. Then comes the international race circuit with trips to Europe and North America in pursuit of a higher world rank.

“I’ve been doing this my whole life,” he says. “I’m so proud of my Armenian heritage and I cannot think of a better way to express myself than to go out there and compete at the highest level on the world’s biggest stages. It’s my dream and that of the Armenian Ski Federation to increase the popularity of winter sports in Armenia. They have incredible mountains there and a great resort in Tzaghkadzor. What’s left is to build upon the culture and get athletes started at a young age. My goal is to put Armenian skiing on the map.”

If anyone can swing the pendulum Armenia’s way, maybe he can. Serebrakian helped design the Armenia ski team uniforms a couple years ago. Through his connections and performances on the slope, he’s made a noticeable mark.

A great achievement was being awarded the Dr. Prentice Gautt Postgraduate Scholarship from the Big XII Conference, which is awarded to a student-athlete matriculating into graduate school at the end of their eligibility.

Those younger moments carry their sentiments.

“My mom would pack us gourmet Armenian-Persian lunches in Tupperware to eat while we were taking a break in the mountains skiing,” Serebrakian recalled. “The other kids were all left to eat cold bologna sandwiches and boxed juices. It has not been difficult for me to keep my identity intact because I wholeheartedly embrace both worlds and believe I can learn from each of them, which makes me somewhat unique.”

Ask him who his Armenian role models are and he’ll quickly tell you Joe Almasian and Kenny Topalian, who competed for Armenia in the bobsled during the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer. Another happens to be tennis stalwart Andre Agassi, who’s devoted much of his time these days to charity.

The burning question is why anyone with aspirations of becoming a surgeon and who is dependent on his hands would risk everything to ski. It’s never crossed his mind.

“I’m a big proponent of living in the here and now,” he admits. “If the doctor feels so passionately about stepping into a ring with a professional boxer, then I’m sure he has good reason and his patients will surely understand. I’m very lucky to have the family around me that I do.”

While at Colorado, Serebrakian made the decision to pursue his other quest in becoming a physician. He graduated with a master’s degree in integrative physiology and was accepted to Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, where he took out loans and began his studies in 2011.

Even with demanding academic aspirations, he never relieved himself of his passion for skiing and physical activity, spending hours in the gym after classes, as well as biking and running in his new city.

As his second year of medical school comes to an end, the intensity of his training program increases even more. He’s committed to taking the year off from college and postponing his graduation to pursue this goal.

Although the Armenia Ski Federation has guaranteed full support for Serebrakian, they are unable to financially assist him. With the high cost of ski racing and the increased demand for world class equipment, training, and coaching, he’s seeking outside help.

The fact his sister made the 2010 Olympic Team and he took a pass didn’t set too well. In some ways, he’s out to make amends. “Getting that call to say I wasn’t going to Vancouver was one of the worst moments of my life,” Serebrakian recalled. “I’ve learned from that. I’m trying everything in my power to avoid a situation like that again.”

To learn more or to donate, visit www.armanserebrakian.com.

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Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
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