Sabrina Cass’ historic Olympic bid continues at Deer Valley
Cass is hoping to be the first Brazilian moguls skier at the Olympics
Flavia Cass didn’t used to be so nervous watching her daughter, Sabrina Cass, ski down moguls courses, but she could feel the butterflies in her stomach during Thursday’s qualifying round at the Deer Valley FIS freestyle World Cup.
It’s Sabrina’s first full season on the World Cup circuit, and Flavia’s not used to seeing her daughter compete against some of the best athletes in the world.
“I get very nervous, I was never nervous before,” Flavia said. “But it’s a lot of fun for her to be here competing with all these amazing athletes and how the girls are putting on an amazing show, so I love it.”
Sabrina’s day didn’t end as well as she had hoped — her 27th-place finish kept her out of the 16-woman final — but a top-30 result helps her standing. She followed that up with a 21st-place result on Friday.
Sabrina’s ambitions are similar to practically everyone else’s on the World Cup: Make the Olympics. However, what separates her from other athletes who either have already clinched a spot at the Games in Beijing next month or are hoping to make their respective teams is that the 19-year-old competes for Brazil.
On Sunday, when the Olympic Quota Allocation List determines how many athletes can compete for each country, Sabrina could become the first moguls skier ever to compete for Brazil at the Winter Olympics. There are 30 spots for moguls at the Olympics, and Cass is ranked 28th in the world in the most recent FIS points list.
The tropical country is more known for its prowess in sports like soccer and volleyball, and a quick Google search for “Brazilian ski resort” only produces an artificial mountain in Sao Paulo and an amusement park. Since making its first appearance at the Winter Olympics in 1992, Brazil has sent a delegation to each of the following Games, but none have competed in moguls.
Sabrina is originally from Connecticut and moves back and forth from there to Park City for training. Flavia is from Brazil and met Sabrina’s father at a ski resort in Kitzbuhel, Austria. After they married, they moved to Park City in 1994 but then relocated to the East Coast for his job.
Both of Sabrina’s parents love skiing, and they got their kids into it. One of Flavia’s favorite memories is when Sabrina and her younger brother were toddlers skiing at Sugarbush Resort in Vermont.
“They were having so much fun,” she recalled. “I love that memory because they were little and just having fun with us.”
When Sabrina was 9 or 10, her parents wanted her to start competing, but she initially refused. They came up with a compromise: She would try it once, and wouldn’t have to do it again if she didn’t like it. That was all it took.
“She came back to me like, ‘I love it, I want to keep going,’ and then she wanted to go to every competition that season,” Flavia said. “Around 12, we were like, ‘Wow, she’s doing pretty good, we definitely need to let her keep going and doing our best to provide her the proper training and the proper opportunity to be the best that she can be.’”
As Sabrina started to improve and develop, the family decided to move to Park City for the winter. The idea of Sabrina competing for Brazil started off as a gag, as Flavia would jokingly remind her kids when they were younger that they could represent Brazil in the Olympics one day. But a friend of Flavia’s pointed out that Brazil does have its own federation, the Brazilian Snow Sports Federation. With the support of both countries, Sabrina, who said she’s a dual citizen, made the transition to representing Brazil last year.
Cass had been on the U.S. ski team for a couple of years at that point and won the 2019 junior world championships but felt that the change would be the best for her.
“It definitely was a tough decision, I just figured that I would have a better opportunity to achieve my goals with the Brazilian team,” Cass said. “The Brazil team, they’re helping us with funding and they’re so great with planning everything, like travel and stuff like that. So it’s been so awesome, and I wouldn’t have expected Brazil to have such a strong federation, but they do.”
Sabrina needed a coach, so she turned to an old U.S. teammate, Nessa Dziemian, an arrangement that is only a few days old. Dziemian retired last year and accepted the offer when Sabrina approached her seeking a coach.
“It’s so funny because she’s been my teammate for so long, and I’m so proud of her just for doing this and skiing for Team Brazil,” Dziemian said. “It’s so bold and brave of her. It’s hard to change coaches on an Olympic year, you know? And she’s absolutely killing it and doing everything she can to make this dream happen.”
The two were roommates at last year’s national championships after spending the prior couple years on the national team together. Sabrina made the team while Dziemian was recovering from a torn ACL, and they bonded over singing, dancing and making TikToks. According to Dziemian, Sabrina can sing along to Adele really well.
Dziemian was also one of the first people to know that Sabrina was debating switching country affiliations. Now, she’s hoping to make it to Beijing with her.
“I retired, and she just asked me in the summer, I said yes, and here we are at the (Deer Valley) World Cup and I’m coaching her,” Dziemian said. “I’ve been there in presence since the beginning. I feel like I helped her make the decision.
“It’s really nice helping out a friend, and especially Sab because we’re so close.”
Skiing for Brazil has also come with some perks. Sabrina said she automatically qualified for World Cup starts through her federation, but she’s done her best to prove that she belongs.
“I’m just really excited to be out here representing Brazil and my family there,” she said. “I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
While it can be nerve-racking to watch her daughter try to hold her own against the world’s best moguls skiers, Flavia can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride to see Sabrina don the green, yellow and blue of her homeland.
“I think it’s amazing,” Flavia said. “All of my family is still in Brazil, and they’re all rooting for her, of course. And it’s very emotional for everybody because we’ve never had anybody in my family that was an athlete that got to this level.”
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