Maria Ntanou, AISTS alumna, Olympian and previous torch relay participant for the Rio Olympic Games, will be carrying the Olympic flame once again, this time in her hometown of Naousa, Greece. 

Maria grew up in a town called Naousa on the north part of Greece next to Thessaloniki. Her hometown has always had a strong tradition in alpine and cross-country skiing, with many athletes from the local club taking part in the Olympic Games over the years. As a young child, Maria had role models from her local club who were taking part in major events, and it was from seeing them compete that gave her the dream to reach this level as well one day. 

Maria joined the cross-country national ski team for the first time when she was finishing the high school, at the age of 17, and in just 3 years she was representing her county, Greece, at the Junior World Championships, FIS Senior World Championships and the Olympic Games. At the age of 19, Maria competed at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. After the games, she continued racing for 1 year but then decided to take a break a finish her studies in Economics.

Ensuring that she had something after her sporting career was very important for Maria and she believes that this is the best choice that an athlete of any sport can make.

“Career transition is very important for every athlete. It gives the possibility to leverage the skills that you have obtained from your sport to develop yourself and become a well-balanced individual.”

After graduating from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Maria wanted to combine her knowledge of Economics with sports, so she came to Lausanne, the Olympic capital, and joined the AISTS class of 2014. Once finishing her studies in sports management, Maria went on to work with the FIE (International Fencing Federation), first as an intern, and now as the Digital Coordinator working in the Marketing and Communication Department. 

In the summer of 2016, Maria was selected to carry the Olympic Flame for the Rio Games along the streets of Athens. 

“When I carried the Olympic Flame of Rio 2016 in Athens it was a unique and very special experience for me. It was my first time that I would carry the flame. I had arrived one day earlier to watch other torch bearers carrying it around Acropolis and feel the Olympic spirit. It is fascinating to know that you are carrying the Olympic Flame that will make the tour of the hosting country and that will be lit in the main stadium of the Olympic Games.”

Maria carried the flame for a few hours before the handover to the Brazilian Organising Committee and she then attended the official ceremony in the Panathenaic Stadium with her family and friends.

On Saturday, 28th of October, she will get that chance once again, this time carrying the flame of the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.  But this time it will be in her hometown, where she grew up, learned how to ski and where she trained and qualified for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

“I know it will be a magical moment which I will share with my family, my relatives and my friends. The torch will pass by around 8pm on Saturday and will stay overnight in the town. Saturday is also the National Day of Greece so many people will be out on the streets and will have the chance to feel the Olympic spirit. My hope is that the children watching will be motivated and encouraged to start a winter sport like I did.”

However, Maria has other aspirations for Pyeongchang 2018.  The dream to compete once again at an Olympic Games has always been in Maria’s mind so in 2015 she set herself another goal- to compete at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.  And like before, combining studies with cross-country skiing, Maria has had a similar challenge, but this time it has been combining work with sports. 

“I competed in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games when I was 19 years old. There is no doubt that I have changed a lot as an athlete in terms of my endurance capabilities, but also my technique as well. When I realised that my sporting career had not finished after studying with the AISTS in 2014, I decided to start training with the Swiss junior team, thanks to Dr Claude Stricker, AISTS Executive Director. My training hours increased a lot and I then started training with the French team. Fortunately, my employer has been incredibly understanding and it is with thanks to them I have been able to follow my Olympic preparation and also continue working at the same time.”

Maria has been training hard to try to ensure her qualification for the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018.  Since May she has done more than 430 hours of training and even completed a few races on roller skis. She has no doubt that if she makes the Greek team for Pyeongchang 2018 it will be a wonderful and rewarding experience. 

“I have given it my all for the past three years and my goal is to gain one more Olympic qualification. I love cross-country skiing at this level and being able to compete at the Olympic Games is just such an amazing experience.  I have loved training in Switzerland, it’s a beautiful country with ideal conditions for winter sport athletes. If I make it to the Games in February, I know the experience will be very different to Vancouver. I have grown as an athlete both in my abilities and my passion for the sport. For me it will be such a reward, to know all the effort I have put in to my trainings has been worth it.”

Maria is very grateful for this chance and this has been made possible with the help of her job and the people she works with at the FIE.  She will finish her season in March 2018 with several races around Europe and then take a well-deserved break.  Her next goal she is setting her sights on is the FIS Nordic World Championships in Seefeld, Austria in 2019.  We wish Maria best of luck over the next few months and look forward to seeing her in Pyeongchang. 

You can follow Maria on her journey to the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games via her Facebook page here and Instagram here