What are our Aussie winter athletes up to?
With a number of World Cup events on this weekend and just over two years out from the 2018 Games, The Snow Gauge caught up with Olympic Winter Institute boss Geoff Lipshut to discuss where the Australian athletes were at and what to expect this season. He also let us in on a very interesting update on the Perisher Superpipe …
Unfortunately that’s been something of a standout over the last 12 months and there’s been a diverse range of them too. Aerials world champion Laura Peel (ankle), World Cup winning snowboard cross competitor Jarryd Hughes (knee), World Cup moguls medallist Matt Graham (broke his arm after falling off a fence) skaters Deanna Lockett (glandular fever) and Daniel Greig (knee) and alpine skier Greta Small (knee) have all missed significant action in the past 12 months. Aerial skier Sam Wells and moguls skier Nicole Parks have also had their share of injury problems. While those athletes will either be starting behind the eight-ball or have to deal with reduced or even non-seasons Lipshut saw the bright side. “It’s probably better to have it in year one and two (after a Games) than to have it later on closer to the next Olympics,” he said.
WHO IS LOOKING GOOD
Sochi aerial skiing silver medallist David Morris had been in excellent training form after a comeback last year and two-time world snowboard cross champion Alex Pullin and teammate Belle Brockhoff were in perfect shape coming into the new season. Lipshut said Pullin had sought to become leaner for 2015/16 and had lost around 5kg so he had less bulk to carry down the hill. He said he’d never seen Brockhoff looking fitter or stronger. If that’s the case look for big things from her this World Cup season – she had an ultra consistent 2014/15 and with the retirement of a number of top riders as well she looks in great shape to step up as a regular podium finisher.
BETTER DEALS FOR ATHLETES
Relations among Australia’s elite snowboarders looked to have improved markedly too with performance contracts replacing the old scholarship system for athletes. The latter set-up made for some awkward moments in the lead up to and during the Sochi Games as some snowboarders complained they weren’t getting a fair deal in comparison to teammates. “We changed a whole lot of stuff after Sochi for a number of reasons,” Lipshut said. “I think a whole lot of the mess around snowboard cross and the halfpipe guys was around what are they entitled to. We couldn’t allow people to have their cake and eat it in the past but now they don’t have to trade away their commercial rights.” The upshot is two-time Games medal winner Torah Bright and World Cup champion Scotty James are now part of the Australian program but can run their own race outside select events. Here’s hoping all that continues to work out smoothly.
Lipshut said he had visited the Pyeongchang site and was pleased with the progress. “Buildings are everywhere but they don’t have a lot of lifts,” he said. The Games themselves would literally have quite a different feel with genuine winter conditions (regular temperatures of -5 Celsius) as opposed to the often spring-like temperatures encountered in the past three Winter Olympics. Very early indications suggest an Australian team size in the mid 50s, slightly down from the 60 in Sochi.
OTHER ATHLETES AND PROGRAMS
There is no longer a skeleton program so the likes of John Farrow have to go it alone. The ski cross program is also less of a focus with Scott Kneller, Jenny Owens and Katya Crema no longer competing. Anton Grimus and Sami Kennedy Sim will fly the flag there. As for aerial skier Lydia Lassila – a comeback will only happen if a water ramp facility gets built on the NSW mid north coast.
BRING ON THE SUPERPIPE!
In case you didn’t notice there was a significant surge in international athletes coming to Australia during our winter. Some of the world’s best snowboarders including 2014 slopestyle gold medallist Sage Kotsenburg, a swagful of alpine skiers from the World Cup tour and 83 of the world’s elite moguls skiers spent time here The good news is Lipshut reckons the long-mooted superpipe at Perisher should get up for this season. “If it gets built you’ll find they will come from all around the world. We’ve secured funding, plans are done and we are just waiting on the planning permit and Perisher building it. We get the planning and it is good to go. They already have great park facilities and this will only make it better.” With an acrobatic centre at Thredbo, Sport and Rec at Jindabyne and the Perisher moguls course Lipshut reckons Australia will be taking a slice out of the NZ market for athletes. “The New Zealanders are suffering the most with this. In bad weather it is much tougher to train there than it is here. Whilst everyone used to go there – I think you will see a bit of shift people coming here.”