MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – With the Olympic games in Sochi less than forty days away, Russia is frequently in the headlines with president Vladimir Putin making surprising decisions that many suspect are driven by his efforts to improve the image of his country – and his government. His latest move was the so-called Christmas amnesties, when high-profile Russian prisoners were set free. Probably the most famous one was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly the richest person in Russia, who had been in jail since 2003, due to be released next August. Another example are two jailed women from the Pussy Riot feminist group who have also been freed, and criminal charges have been dropped against the 30 people, including two New Zealanders, accused of taking part in a Greenpeace offshore oil protest in the Arctic.
For the athletes, however, these last weeks before the competitions start are all about preparation and qualification. Countries are forming their teams, from Russia to the United States to Down Under. Despite the sunny weather and warm temperatures, that do not exactly scream winter sports, Australia is once again determined to send a strong and competitive team to Sochi. And things are looking good: Jarryd Hughes just recorded his maiden snowboard cross World Cup win in Lake Louise, Canada, in the process earning enough points to become equal world number one, Olympic half-pipe champion Torah Bright blasted back into top form to win the Dew Tour event in Colorado against an Olympic-strength field and in Finland, fellow Olympic gold medalist Dale Begg-Smith, Australia’s most decorated Winter Olympian, showed he was on track for a third Olympic appearance, finishing fifth in the opening moguls World Cup, his first competition for three years.
Dale Begg-Smith’s career sky-rocketed before he was forced to take an injury-based break, earning him the title of Snow Sports Athlete of the Year, awarded by Ski and Snowboard Australia in 2005. Following his outstanding success at the Torino Olympics, Australia Post issued a postage stamp commemorating Begg-Smith’s achievement. On top of that he made it several times into the Australian Moguls Hall of Fame, a tribute to those who have contributed in a significant way to the sport of freestyle mogul skiing. Included are people who have demonstrated athletic success at the highest levels, trailblazers who pioneered the sport before it became mainstream, volunteers who have selflessly given, administrators who have guided this sport because they believed in it and coaches who have nurtured our athletes.
Dale Begg-Smith made his first impact as a moguls skier in January 2001, skiing for Canada at the age of 16. After several years off the circuit, Dale and his older brother Jason, took Australian citizenship and resumed their World Cup careers under the guidance of Steve Desovich. With an Olympic gold and silver medal to his name, Dale is Australia’s most successful winter Olympian. At the 2006 Torino Olympic Winter Games, Dale became the youngest mogul skier in Olympic history to win gold. In total, Dale has had an outstanding career, winning two Olympic medals, three World Championship medals and 29 World Cup medals. Another record that leads many to consider Dale the greatest mogul skier of all time is his current streak of 60 consecutive finals appearances, which surpasses all of his peers.