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Australians eye Winter Games success

22nd October, 2013
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Australia is pulling out all stops to secure a best-ever Winter Olympics medal haul with a series of high-end training camps across the globe.

While the domestic ski season was a damp squib, the Olympic Winter Institute (OWI) and Australian Institute of Sport have opened up the purse strings as the national team eyes off at least four medals and a top-15 medal table finish at the Sochi Winter Games in February.

Moguls skiers – including reclusive two-time Olympic medal winner Dale Begg-Smith, have spent time in a high altitude camp while also training on a Swiss glacier while Vancouver gold medal snowboarder Torah Bright has joined an elite group of international riders in a month-long camp in New Zealand.

It follows another multi-week session in New Zealand for ski slopestyle hopefuls Russ Henshaw and Anna Segal and the snowboard team, as well as stints in Switzerland for the aerial skiing squad, who’ll also head to Finland before the first World Cup round of the season in December.

OWI boss Geoff Lipshut said many of the camps were “one off initiatives” to give Australian athletes the best chance of success at the Games.

There’ll be at least seven realistic medal chances in a record-sized Australian team that could number up to 60.

But much recent attention has focused on a blast from the past in Begg-Smith, the Canadian-turned-Australian who won gold in 2006 and silver four years ago but hasn’t competed in a World Cup since 2010.

Ten months ago Lipshut said the odds were against Begg-Smith, 28, going to another Olympics but he was now confident he’d get to Sochi.

“He’s our most successful Winter Olympian ever … he’s training, he wants to give it a go and I have expectations he will succeed because that’s who he is,” Lipshut said.

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Begg-Smith will likely need at least one World Cup top five and top 10 finish to qualify for his third Games.

A halfpipe and slopestyle feature has been constructed for Bright and a small group of other international athletes at Mt Hutt, in the NZ South Island high country.

With Bright also attempting to qualify for snowboardcross, Lipshut admitted some doubts about how well she’d fare in a discipline which has more to do with racing then performing tricks.

“It is a stretch because she hasn’t done that many events and the girls are getting faster and faster,” Lipshut said.

“I think it will take a big effort to even get through any of the rounds … but Torah’s a fantastic snowboarder and it’s one of those sports that if you get in the right place at the right time, funny things can happen.”

He expects Bright will need to compete in four snowboardcross events on the World Cup tour and get a top 16 result or two in order to qualify.

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