2014 Sochi Winter Games
While the world celebrated the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, thousands of aspiring athletes around the world were already preparing themselves for the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia in 2014. Now only one month away, preparations for the Sochi Games are well underway to transform the Black Sea city into the next host of the Games after they defeated Salzburg, Austria and Pyeongchang, Korea at a vote in 2007. The 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games will mark the first time Russia has hosted the winter Games, a surprising outcome given the nation’s strength in the winter sports arena. While the host nation will undoubtedly be a dominant competitor, Australia is looking to improve on its recent performances at the winter Games. Four years ago at the 2010 Vancouver Games Australian athletes won two gold and one silver medal, the best performance by an Australian team in Winter Olympic history. Forty Australian athletes, including 18 NSWIS scholarship holders, competed in Vancouver, and in Sochi the Australian Olympic Team is targeting around 50 athletes to continue the growth of the winter sport movement. “Winter sports in Australia have come a long way since the Vancouver Games, and as a coach I’m keen to see how far we’ve come in four years,” said NSWIS Freestyle Moguls Head Coach Peter Topalovic. “A number of new disciplines have been added to the Olympic schedule this time around which ultimately means there is more chance at success, though regardless of the end result the athletes will undoubtedly enjoy the experience of representing their country at the highest level.” Among the medallists was NSWIS snowboarder Torah Bright, who won the Institute’s first Olympic winter medal when she took gold in the women’s half-pipe. Joining Bright on the medal dais were compatriots Lydia Lassila (gold, women’s aerials) and Dale Begg-Smith (silver, men’s freestyle moguls). In May 2012 the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) adopted a strategic plan for the 2014 Australian Olympic Team that outlined the team’s objectives. According to the report the goal is for the team to “place in the top 15 nations on the overall medal standings and win medals in more than the two disciplines in which Australian won medals at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.” The team appears to be well poised to achieve the outlined targets, with the 2014 Games schedule including the new disciplines of ski slopestyle, snowboard slopestyle and snowboard parallel special slalom. The inclusion of ski slopestyle gives NSWIS athlete Russ Henshaw a perfect chance to fight for his chance at Olympic triumph following medals at several major events during the most recent Northern Hemisphere winter season. The inclusion of slopestyle gave Henshaw the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream that he thought was lost. “When I found out slopestyle was in the Olympics I was super stoked,” Henshaw said. “I grew up (alpine) racing, and when I decided to stop racing to pursue free skiing, I basically kissed my dreams of representing my country at the Olympics goodbye. “(But) now that slopestyle is in the Olympics I can do what I love (free skiing) and still achieve my dream of going to the Olympics.” Likewise, since Vancouver where he finished 17th overall, NSWIS athlete Alex Pullin has established himself as the world’s premier male snowboard cross athlete. Back-to-back world championships in 2011 and 2013 have Pullin at the forefront of Australia’s renewed medal charge in Sochi, and along with fellow snowboarders Bright, Holly Crawford and Nate Johnstone, who compete in the half-pipe events, the stage is set for an outstanding Olympic snowboard campaign. The Paralympic Games will kick off just two weeks after the conclusion of the Olympic Games, and like their Olympic counterparts the Paralympians are looking to continue the success of Vancouver four years ago. Eleven athletes represented Australia at the Vancouver Winter Paralympic Games, with NSWIS athlete Marty Mayberry winning silver in the men’s standing downhill. Fellow NSWIS athlete Melissa Perrine competed at the Games in Vancouver, one of only two Australian females to ever compete at the Winter Paralympics, and will likely take her place on the team come 2014. After suffering an injury prior to Vancouver that eventually saw her miss out on medals, Perrine is looking forward to her next Paralympic opportunity. “I’d like to medal, that’s a goal for sure. I think it’s a possibility so I have to make sure I work hard.” While winter sports athletes continue their preparations, work is continuing on the venues and infrastructure in and around Sochi, with some of the events, such as ice hockey, speed skating and curling, taking place at the Sochi Olympic Park, known as the ‘Coastal Cluster’, and other events such as cross country skiing, freestyle skiing and snowboarding taking place at the nearby resort of Krasnaya Polyana, known as the ‘Mountain Cluster’. The Games’ site received praise well in advance of the Olympic opening ceremony, and when speaking at a ‘one year to go’ anniversary function earlier this year International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge was confident the Games will be a huge success. “A year from now, people from every region on earth will gather in this remarkable place where the mountains meet the sea for a global celebration of sport and Olympic values. The eyes of the world will soon be on Sochi, and I have no doubt that Sochi will be ready. This sports-loving nation plunged into the task of hosting the Games with total enthusiasm, and the results are easy to see. Visitors to Sochi will enjoy world-class sports venues, modern infrastructure, spectacular mountain scenery and welcoming traditional Russian hospitality.” The end result in and around Sochi will be a huge transformation. The construction of new venues are being complemented by a new terminal at the Sochi airport, a new offshore terminal at the Sochi sea port and the construction of several hotels to cater for the thousands of guests who will descend on the city in 2014 and beyond, as Sochi builds on its Olympic and Paralympic legacy. The Sochi Games like all before it will be a celebration of host nation’s culture through sport. From allowing the Russian public to vote for the Games’ mascots, to the implementation of a ‘Cultural Olympiad’, every effort has been made to make sure Russia is given the best opportunity to shine through sport’s greatest showpiece.