Growing up, Ashleigh Werner had a dream of representing Australia in the Olympic Games, but you might say that over the years she has had some trouble picking just one sport to compete in.
The 23rd Winter Olympics open in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on 9 February and, though it hasn’t always been the case, Australia’s winter athletes are now expected to bring home medals.
In fact sports analysis company Gracenote predicts Australia to win four medals – two gold and two silver.
Winter Olympics were first held in Chamonix, France, in 1924 but it wasn’t until 1936 Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, that Australia had a representative – Kenneth Kennedy in speed skating.
Up until the 1988 Games in Calgary Australia was generally represented in only two sports: alpine skiing and speed skating. But at the 1988 Games in Canada Australia was represented in six sports: alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, figure skating, speed skating and bobsleigh.
Australia won its first medal at the 1994 Games held in Lillehammer, Norway, where the men’s short track skating team won the bronze medal in the 5000 metres relay. This team included Steven Bradbury, who went on to win Australia’s first gold medal in 2002 at Salt Lake City, USA, in the men’s 1000 metres.
Of course Bradbury’s win was remarkable as he was the only skater left standing after four opponents fell in the race. The phrase ‘to do a Bradbury’ has entered the modern lexicon to mean ‘to win by accident’.
Steven Bradbury – men’s short tracking skating 1000 metres (2002)
Alisa Camplin – women’s freestyle aerials (2002)
Dale Begg-Smith – men’s freestyle moguls (2006)
Lydia Lassila – women’s freestyle aerials (2010)
Torah Bright – women’s snowboard halfpipe (2010)
Dale Begg-Smith – men’s freestyle moguls (2010)
Torah Bright – women’s snowboard halfpipe (2014)
David Morris – freestyle skiing (2014)
Steven Bradbury, Kieran Hansen, Andrew Murtha and Richard Nizielski – men’s short tracking skating 5000 metres relay (1994)
Zali Steggall – women’s alpine slalom (1998)
Alisa Camplin – women’s freestyle aerials (2006)
David Morris – men’s freestyle aerials (2014)
Lydia Lassila – women’s freestyle aerials (2014)
Before looking at Australia’s medal prospects in 2018, it is worth considering the Olympic winter sports where medals have been won, as these may give some indication of Australia’s strength at the Games:
So what factors have led to Australia winning medals since the late 1990s?
Firstly, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) in 1998 established the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia (OWIA) with the support of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).
The OWIA is now well supported by three high-performance organisations. The AIS through the Australian Sports Commission has funded elite winter sports to the tune of $4.2 million in 2017-18. The OWIA is also supported by the New South Wales and Victorian sport institutes in terms of scholarships and training support.
Therefore our winter elite athletes have never been better funded for training and competition.
Secondly, Australian athletes have excelled in new winter Olympic sports, such as freestyle skiing’s aerials and moguls and snowboarding’s halfpipe and cross. The gymnastics background of Alisa Camplin and Lydia Lassila have helped them to become gold medallists in aerial skiing.
At the time of writing the Australian team will be 51 athletes strong with representatives for ten sports: freestyle skiing (16 athletes), snowboarding (12), cross-country skiing (6), figure skating (4), bobsleigh (4), alpine skiing (3), short track skating (2), skeleton (2), speed skating (1) and luge (1).
As previously mentioned, Gracenote has suggested Australia will win four medals and finish 14th on the medal table. This prediction is based on previous performances at recent world championships and cups. If this were to eventuate, it would be Australia’s best performance, surpassing the three medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Who does Gracenote predict to win medals?
Gold medals to Brittney Cox in the women’s freestyle moguls and to Scott James in men’s snowboard halfpipe and silver medals to Danielle Scott in the women’s freestyle aerials and Alex Pullin in the mem’s snowboard cross.
It is my experience that predicting medals at the Winter Olympics is filled with danger as the snow and weather conditions can be variable and skill errors occur easily as athletes push themselves to the limit. For instance, the landing in freestyle aerials is critical in the final score and the hustle and bustle of four snowboarders often lead to falls.
The two particularly strong events for Australia are the freestyle aerials and snowboard cross. It wouldn’t surprise me if Danielle Scott, Lydia Lassila, Laura Peel or David Morris win medals in the aerials or if Alex Pullin, Jarryd Hughes or Adam Lambert win medals in the thrills and spills of the snowboard cross.
I will be closely watching the progress of the inspirational Lydia Lassila, who has won gold and bronze medals and will be competing at her fifth Games. The recent documentary film on her life Will to Fly made me appreciate the many sacrifices our winter athletes make due to them spending significant time overseas due to the lack of suitable water jumps training facilities in Australia.
With Korea two hours behind Sydney, the viewing of the Games will be more hospitable than previous Games in Europe and North America.