Is this Australia’s next Winter Olympics gold medallist?
- Matt Graham won his first World Cup moguls event at Deer Valley this season
- He has 5 World Cup podium finishes
- As a 19 year-old he was 7th in Sochi
- Graham is still good mates with Dale Begg-Smith, chatting often a few times a week with the Olympic gold and silver medallist about his technique.
As far as preparation for the 2015/16 winter went, Matt Graham’s couldn’t get much worse.
In a sport known for mangling meniscuses Graham instead decided it’d be more fun to injure himself falling off a fence a little over a metre high while collecting a volleyball in Park City, Utah back in June.
“The ball went over this fence and it probably would’ve only been chest high so I just frog-leaped it and the top railing collapsed under me and flipped me onto the ground,” Graham recalls, not so fondly.
“I hyper-extended my arm. I had to come home and have surgery.”
Thank you and goodnight 2015 Australian ski season.
“It was so annoying. Out of all the things I do recreationally – and seriously with skiing – then to have something like that catch you off guard …”
The upshot was “surgery, a plate and few screws” and 15 weeks out of action.
With many of the big names out in Australia such as Mikael Kingsbury getting their bump on during our winter you could’ve excused Graham, 21, for having modest expectations in the 15/16 World Cup season.
Instead he killed it.
In a modified event program Graham claimed his first World Cup win, two other podiums and didn’t finish any worse that fifth.
He finished the overall title race in second despite skipping the last event of the season in Russia.
“It was a great season, especially given the circumstances I put myself in last year with injuries and what not,” he said.
“I pretty much didn’t get to train full time from May up until the beginning of November. I was really limited. To have that time off and come back with really short preparation and to ski well and jump well was a real confidence booster.”
With the best part of two seasons ahead before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018 it’s not a stretch to suggest Graham will be one of his country’s key athletes and best gold medal hopes.
Along with snowboard cross competitor Belle Brockhoff the pair are the big Australian improvers from the World Cup circuit this year.
Standing in Graham’s way are a few people but none who’s shadow looms any larger than Canadian Kingsbury.
The globe winner in 2016, Kingsbury went on a remarkable run over the past two seasons where he took out seven World Cup events in a row. For good measure he was victorious at both the Australian New Zealand Cup races at Perisher too.
Graham is in awe of the performances. But far from awe-struck.
“He’s just breaking all the records at the moment. He’s just crushing it,” he said of Sochi silver medallist Kingsbury. “But I know I have the skills and the ability to beat him on any given day. It just comes down to whether I can put down my runs. Hopefully this coming season I can get better prepared and put more and more pressure on him.”
That means upping the ante this year to ensure he has the highest scoring tricks in the competition.
In Sochi Graham was a credible seventh but knew all along the only way he would make the podium was if others made mistakes.
Adding an extra rotation to his back full in combination with his off axis 1080 gives him the highest degree of difficulty points available. So assuming his turns are smooth and time competitive, Graham can win on his best day.
He’ll work on that during overseas camps and the Australian winter as he eyes off a tilt at becoming his country’s sixth Winter Olympics gold medallist.
Helping him along the way is Dale Begg-Smith.
Not always warmly embraced after leaving Canada to compete for Australia and with a murky Internet business, Begg-Smith nonetheless has only ever been spoken of highly by his teammates.
Graham was first introduced to him as a 15 year-old and still has very regular Skype and email time with the now retired skier.
“He took the time out to coach me then. At the time it had a big impact on me – having an Olympic gold and silver medallist tell you how to ski was pretty surreal.”
“He views the sport like no one else. He was that good.”
“He has had a big influence on my career I hope can do the same for others.”