Brian Roe | Winter arrives at last for Australia

AUSTRALIAN ARRIVAL: Scotty James leads the Australian team into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
AUSTRALIAN ARRIVAL: Scotty James leads the Australian team into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Yes there was a raft with kids aboard and the usual sort of story attached to it that most people probably didn’t get. And there were all the usual formal trimmings, but aside from that, Pyeongchang’s take on an Olympic opening ceremony on Friday night was well above par.

Don’t know much about drones and what they can do, but that which the creative team in Korea did with them was pretty special. The 23rd Winter Olympic Games have begun.

And for once, as again will be the case for the Summer Games in 2020, they’re in our time zone – creating perfect options for the television viewer, at least those who are supposed to be at work.

The problem is that we are now potentially captive to the box – or these days to some sort of app or other online connection, for the next 15 days to watch the very best in winter sports strut their stuff.

The transformation of the Winter Olympics has been significant – and as far as Australians are concerned in two very obvious ways.

The Games are vastly different in makeup to what they were even 20 years ago.

New disciplines in freestyle skiing and snowboarding specifically chosen to attract new followers, particularly younger audiences, are now just as prominent in the list of events as the traditional alpine skiing, figure skating, ice hockey and bobsleigh.

And for Australia it’s just as well, because for the most part we have never been any good at the latter batch.

Of course there’s a reason for that – we don’t have vast snowfields nor have we been all that passionate about supporting the ice rinks that are from time to time dotted around the country. 

Almost all the new events that we have embraced can be delivered in much smaller areas of snow and a fair proportion of the acquisition of the skills required, training and preparation can be done where there’s no snow at all.

History reveals that from 1936 until the first of the new rotation of the Games in 1994, Australian attendance at the Winter Olympics largely reflected the famous edict espoused by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern movement. It was the taking part that was important to us – not the winning.

But when the later-to-be-substantially-more-famous, Steven Bradbury and his three mates won a bronze in the short track speed skating relay in Lillehammer in 1994, things were beginning to change.

There were a few folk with vision who were backing their judgement and investing in Australian snow sports. The Australian Institute of Winter Sports was created and quickly began to make a difference.

Zali Stegall’s women’s slalom bronze in Nagano ensured that Australia has had a presence on the medal table continuously since the Lillehammer breakthrough.

MOMENTUM: Australia's Zali Stegall (r) celebrates her bronze medal in the Olympic special slalom race in Nagano, Japan in 1998. Picture: Dylan Martinez REUTERS

MOMENTUM: Australia's Zali Stegall (r) celebrates her bronze medal in the Olympic special slalom race in Nagano, Japan in 1998. Picture: Dylan Martinez REUTERS

Her performance, coming in alpine skiing was a one-off in one key respect however as it represents Australia’s only medal among our 12 to date outside short track, freestyle and snowboarding.

That Australia now boasts five Winter Olympic gold medals is testament to an approach that has seen us invest and play to our potential strengths.

And we Tasmanians can all take a little bit of pride in the fact that one of our own, Ian Chesterman, is once again the Aussie team boss – the quaintly-titled chef de mission.

Courting the internationals

We are also hosting a little bit of world sport ourselves in the form of the Launceston International.

Anyone who hasn’t ventured down to Launceston’s regional tennis centre this year and can’t make it Sunday should put it in the diary for 12 months’ time.

It’s a well-organised tournament with a surprisingly good quality of play – and with easy to access for fans. Many can walk to the centrally-located venue and for those who can’t, the parking has been free.

And for the early rounds in order to witness plenty of action you only had to throw a gold coin into the bucket held by one of the 40-plus cheery volunteers without whom the whole thing just wouldn’t work.