Beaten by the Brits? Just you wait ...

As an Aussie I have received my fair bit of social media ribbing from Brits (surprising given they have their own games success to obsess about) and Kiwis (not surprising) on the state of the Australian medal tally at the London Games, as if it is me out there in the pool and on the track.

If it was me I'd be pleased just to be there and wouldn't laugh in the face of silver. But this is sport and sport at an international level brings out the cross-nation rivalry of old.

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Shining star ... snowboarder and Olympic gold medallist.
Shining star ... snowboarder and Olympic gold medallist. 

 As snow photographer Dan Himbrechts said on social media this week, ''We’d gladly send back Russell Crowe for New Zealand's rowing team.” He was responding to one cheeky tabloid’s piss take creation of 'Aus Zealand' to get us up the medal rankings using New Zealand's medals. See we do have a sense of humour.

 Instead I just choose to lie back and think of Russia. Australia will go into the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 with our best internationally ranked winter athletes across disciplines to date, and I intend to cheer from the finishing line, vodka and caviar in hand. Gold, silver, bronze or just showing up, they'll be champions to me.

Having said that, Britain may be well ahead of us in the London medal tally, but it was six places behind us in Vancouver in 2010, and New Zealand didn’t even make the medal table - said with my tongue placed firmly in my cheek. We even matched the gold medal tally of former Winter Olympic host nations France and doubled the gold tally of Italy. Oh dear, now I sound desperate.

Few realise the snow sports competition history of our sunburnt nation promoted as a country of beaches, bush and desert. The first non-European to win a first-place podium place in the history of the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup alpine skiing competition was an Australian. Sure, Malcolm Milne had to train with the French to get there, but get there he did, representing Australia in 1969.

Since the inception of the Australian Olympic Winter Institute, in partnership with the Australian Institute of Sport in 1998, we have been present on 195 World Cup and Olympic podiums. In fact Australia has won 276 medals at Olympics and World Cup level since we first started competing (I am proud to say that more than 65 per cent of those have been won by women).

We’ve even had 10 world champions at FIS level, six of those in the past 10 years. Four athletes scored world championship status in 2011 – Anna Segal for slopestyle skiing, Alex Chumpy Pullin for snowboarder cross, Holly Crawford for snowboard halfpipe and Nathan Johnstone for snowboard halfpipe.

But enough of what my British friends call ‘'gloating’' (I won’t mention the pot or kettle nor the colour black). Let’s talk of Sochi.

The upcoming northern season of competition will be the one that really determines who to look out for before Sochi’s opening ceremony on February 7, 2014. And going into the next northern season we are looking good. Our winter athletes rarely get the coverage they deserve so I am going to give it to them.

Ever humble snowboarder Johnstone finished last season with four top 10 results including a World Cup gold podium place in Stoneham, Canada. Fellow boarder Crawford won silver at the World Cup event in Cardrona, New Zealand,  last year before injury cut her northern season short. 

Slopestyle skier and Olympic Winter Instititute scholarship winner Segal got herself a bronze at the Aspen X Games and a silver at the Tignes X Games. She won the Association of Freeskiing Professionals Championships in Whistler and finished the season second in the official rankings.

Sochi will be the first Olympics to offer slopestyle ski in competition, which is good news for us as we don't just have Segal as a serious contender. Male slopestyle skier Russ Henshaw, who won bronze at the FIS World Championships and silver at the Aspen X Games, both in 2011, performed well his first season back after knee surgery and is a strong chance for a podium place.

Then there's moguls. Seventeen-year-old mogul skier Brittney Cox scored her first World Cup medal, a bronze, in Deer Valley, Utah,  last northern season. 

Australia has always been strong in aerials, with former world champion Jacqui Cooper, Olympic gold and bronze medalist Alisa Camplin and Vancouver gold medalist Lydia Lassila. Word is Lassila is working towards Sochi. A new girl to watch, aerialist Laura Peel, won her first World Cup gold podium in Kireishberg, Austria.

Don't rule out skeleton either, one of the scariest looking disciplines at the Winter Olympics. Emma Lincoln-Smith and Lucy Chaffer won World Cup silver medals in skeleton in Austria and Whistler respectively

Watch out for skier cross competitor Jenny Owens (third at the Aspen X Games 2012), Scott Kneller for skier cross (World Cup winner in 2011) and Alex Pullin for boarder cross (world champion 2011).

Trust me, we haven't forgotten Torah. It has been a while since we’ve seen Torah Bright in full season competition, but she is planning for Sochi with a series of World Cup competitions and the Aspen X games ahead.

“The pressure is kind of scary,” Bright said of Sochi when we spoke to her in Perisher at the weekend. “Having that win in Vancouver, the country expects it again. I have the ability on my board, so we will see if the stars align.”

As if Olympic pressure isn't enough, Torah was training in the pipe with Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke the day Sarah was fatally injured at Utah's Park City Mountain Resort in January this year.

“I’d be lying if it didn’t make me think there is more out of life and should I hang up my snowboard boots,” Bright said of the death of her friend and the intitial period of grief. “It came down to what would Sarah tell me to do, and Sarah would tell me to live.”

Burke was the gold medal hope for the first ever ski halfpipe at a Winter Olympics.

Win or lose, Australian (and the world's) freeski snow sports athletes will do us, and Burke, proud just by competing. Kind of puts all that gloating, boasting and ribbing in perspective. 

What do you think Australia's real chances are for medals in Sochi - care to predict the outcome? Who is your favourite Australian winter sports competitor and why? Do you think medals really matter? Post a comment on our blog below for your chance to WIN.

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Steve Lee taking on the mountains of Hakuba with Liquid Snow Tours. Photo credit: Chris Hocking.

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