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Aussies tracking well a month out from PyeongChang

9 January 2018

Like ski ballet, rear-entry boots and stretch pants, the days of Australia being considered a winter sports oddity have been consigned to history.

With 12 medals since the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer - including five gold - the land of beaches and barbecues has more than held its own on snow and ice.

And there's every reason to believe the Pyeongchang Games in South Korea starting on February 9 could be the country's best yet.

In a record-breaking 2016/17 season Australian winter athletes picked up 35 medals in World Cups and a further five at the freestyle skiing and snowboard World Championship, spread across 13 athletes in six different disciplines.

All three of Australia's medallists from the Sochi Olympics (aerial skiers Lydia Lassila and David Morris and snowboard halfpipe's Torah Bright) are expected to be in Pyeongchang while Britt Cox (moguls), Scotty James (snowboard halfpipe), Alex Pullin (snowboard cross) and Danielle Scott (aerial skiing) lead a group aspiring to win gold.

Yet the head of Australia's Winter Olympic Institute, Geoff Lipshut, has urged caution when it comes to predicting a Games-best performance of four or more medals.

"Every country lifts their game in year four," Lipshut said of the last year in the Olympic cycle.

"It just gets tougher.

"I think the expectation is medals; as for how many I'm not sure ... but somewhere in that one to three mark is about right."

Of the leading lights it is Cox that shines brightest.

Her seven World Cup wins and world championship victory in 2016/17 marked the single greatest performance in a season by an Australian winter athlete.

Teammate Matt Graham is a strong prospect of a medal too, but looks to be challenging for a minor one given the dominance of the sport's greatest practitioner, six-times World Cup champion Canadian Mikael Kingsbury.

In terms of depth it is hard to go past the snowboard cross squad with Pullin winning two events to start this season and Jarryd Hughes another. Adam Lambert is the big smokey, the 20 year-old already a World Cup medallist who looks to be timing his run well.

An ACL injury to Belle Brockhoff appears to have scuppered what would have been a good chance of a medal in the women's event.

In the aerials world championship silver medallist Scott is best placed for Games glory but veteran Lassila can also not be ruled out for a podium finish. Morris is a big-event performer but will want stronger results in the Pyeongchang lead-up to push his medal bona fides.

Threatening to usurp them all is James.

With snowboard halfpipe vying to be the blue ribband event of the Games, the Victorian can go to the next level with a win over the sport's $50 million man and all-time great, Shaun White.

Victories over the American at last year's X Games and test event in Pyeongchang suggest it is very possible.

"It is a huge deal," James said.

"Winter sports aren't hugely broadcasted or watched in Australia so there's this little added pressure in going out there, flying the flag and doing the best you can and putting on the best show you can.

"It's our one opportunity every four years ... I understand what can come of it."

Snowboard compatriot Bright's late push for a fourth Games is welcome but her appearance is far from assured with some strong World Cup results needed to ensure qualification.

Regardless, a third Olympic medal would be a remarkable achievement given she has rarely competed since Sochi.

As for the Games themselves there's plenty to look forward to; and more than a little to be concerned about.

The 2017 test events were a success, the venues look to be excellent and a repeat of the gross excesses and clunky administration of the Sochi Games appear unlikely.

With a number of events scheduled in or around prime time in Australia, there's ample scope to enjoy the spectacle.


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