A record number of Australians are on their way to Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which get underway on Friday.
Surpassing the past two Winter Olympic efforts where Australia was represented by 40 athletes, 56 skiers, snowboarders, skaters and sliders have been selected for Sochi.
There will be Australians in 10 of the 15 sports in Sochi:
- Alpine Skiing
- Cross Country
- Figure Skating
- Freestyle Skiing
- Short Track
- Snowboard, and
- Speed Skating.
The Freestyle Skiing section is the biggest with 21 athletes followed by the Snowboard squad with 11.
The team includes Olympic gold medallists Dale Begg-Smith (Moguls), Torah Bright (Snowboard - main picture) and Lydia Lassila (Aerials), but 70% of the team members are making their debut.
“I'm always there if athletes need advice,” Lassila said ahead of her fourth Olympic campaign.
“But my role at the Sochi Olympics isn't to mentor. It is to be a fierce competitor and to give my best performance. That in itself is the best source of inspiration for younger atheletes.”
For dual World Champion Alex ‘Chumpy’ Pullin, the countdown until the Games kick off can’t come soon enough.
“This is my second Olympics but it feels a lot more real than the first. I’m a lot more ready to go for gold,” the Snowboard Cross specialist said.
“The Olympics are that truly unique event that you get to feel the whole country behind you. It’s really special and we don’t usually get that in our sport.
“Snowboarding is an individual sport but at the Olympics we each get to be a part of something so huge. You get to be part of the team. There is a lot of energy to feed off in that team and good results inspire everyone else to have good results and I know that will happen in Sochi. The Aussie spirit is so great and you can feed off that.”
Some of the newest events on the Olympic program hold great promise for Australia.
2011 World Champion Anna Segal and X Games medallist Russ Henshaw will vie for the first Ski Slopestyle medals. Meanwhile, 2010 Olympians Bright and Scotty James will double up and compete in Snowboard Halfpipe and the new Slopestyle event.
“Many athletes will go with the hope of making a final, and we have a number with hope of winning a medal,” said the Chef de Mission, Ian Chesterman.
“There is no doubt that if our athletes have their best day on their Olympic competition day then this will be the most successful Winter team ever.”
“I’m sure that every team member understands the honour that comes with being chosen as a member of the Australian Olympic Team, and will represent their country with distinction both on and off the ice and snow.”
History is also being made with the selection of former hurdles World Champion Jana Pittman for Bobsleigh. The dual summer Olympian is now the first Australian female to be selected for a Summer and Winter Games.
Australia will also have siblings competing in Cross Country Skiing. Callum and Aimee Watson have both been selected for their first Olympic Team.
Some athletes started their sports before they could walk and others have transitioned from summer sports in recent years. The nature of winter sports and the Australian climate means all athletes have travelled thousands of kilometres around the globe to become one of the best in the world and chase their Olympic dreams.
Meanwhile, the world waits and hopes that the Winter Games go without a hitch in what has been a troublesome preparation in a volatile political environment.