ELIZABETH Ireland admitted her sport’s lack of exposure in the UK meant her nomination came as a huge surprise, writes JAMES ROBERTS.

The Nordic Skier won the Under 18 female British Roller Ski series and competed in her first international cross-country FIS race in a successful 2017.

But the 16-year-old revealed she was shocked to be short-listed for this month’s awards night.

Ireland said: “Nordic skiing is a really small sport and no one knows about it.

“It was a surprise to be nominated in the first place, so to win is crazy to think about – I haven’t quite processed it yet!”

Ireland turned 16 in September, enabling her to compete in international races for the first time.

These take place across Europe and the Didcot resident experienced her first taste of the continental circuit in Sweden last month.

She said: “It was a big step up, a steep learning curve.

“It’s quite specialised, learning how to time race days and warm-ups and choosing which skis you’re going to use.

“Everyone knows everyone because it’s such a small sport.

“So the seniors are very encouraging – they’re really happy to pass on their knowledge.”

The week of the sports awards is extra special for Ireland.

Just four days before the ceremony, the teenager finds out if she will represent her country at March’s Under 18 European Championships in Italy.

This is an important milestone as she attempts to rise through the sport.

She said: “My main aim this season is the European Championships.

“If I achieve that the next step is the European Youth Olympics in 2019.

“It’s an exciting time!”