Winter Games: the chill starts to set in


IF YOU'VE got excited about winter sports over the past fortnight, you've just about had your fill for another four years.

Because unless you've got pay television the only chance you will have of seeing any of our own, or the world's, snow or ice stars will be in a highlights grab or a spectacular spills reel.

It's just the way it is. We get all excited each Winter Games and vow to look out for more, but then quickly forget once nothing gets delivered before our eyes on free- to-air.

The International Olympic Committee has been unbelievably innovative with its winter program - embracing the new extreme disciplines and attracting not only its intended target of the youth audience but a whole swag of older folk into the bargain.

Whether you think they are fair contests or not, those boarder- cross and ski-cross events are certainly captivating. And even though they just add to the list of those annoyingly pesky judged sports, the half pipe contests are spectacular.

For we Aussies, of course, there are added advantages with many of these new Olympic disciplines - they don't need a full mountain of snow and there isn't a century of skill development and culture in the countries of North America and Europe that leaves us hopelessly adrift.

So it's no surprise that it is these events and the aerials in which Australia can be a legitimate Winter Olympics contender.

But at the same time, as a nation, we have to be realistic.

Any expectation that we can finish in a lofty position on the medal table is both a little crazy and, most of all, unfair on the athletes.

There were crazy predictions this time around, including from our most-loved winter man Steve Bradbury, who seemed to think we could garner more medals in Sochi than we had managed at all previous Winter Olympics.

Just as with the summer version, it is a foolhardy exercise to add up every remote chance for a place on the victory dais and predict it as a medal target.

As a sun-loving and team sports oriented country, three medals at a Winter Games ought to be perceived as a good outcome.

Of course, the bean counters will soon start comparing medal return on dollars invested in preparation.

And this will be a relatively easy exercise this time around, courtesy of the nasty spat among the entourages of team members about who got what and why.

It will also focus analysis once again on the Australian Sports Commission's Winning Edge strategy, which narrows funding towards only the best medal chances.

The commission's Winter Institute is the closest operating example to the Winning Edge philosophy.

It, for example, channelled massive funding towards Alex Pullin's failed bid for boarder- cross glory to the exclusion of his colleagues and almost missed out on being able to claim success for David Morris's silver.

Neither scheme can guarantee success.

Maximising opportunity and participation for the athletes and thereby creating greater interest for the fans remains a much better option.

Most of all it creates a stronger base that is better equipped to throw up an unexpected medallist, finalist or personal best.


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