ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) – Four medals, including a gold, represent Australia’s best Winter Olympic haul in terms of numbers, but how they look after those that fail to reach the podium is the hallmark of success for team chief Geoff Lipshut.
The country won two golds in 2002 and 2010 but have never had more than three medals in all – having had to wait 58 years before claiming their first medal, a bronze in 1994.
In Beijing, Jakara Anthony won gold in freestyle skiing moguls, while Scotty James, in snowboard halfpipe, and Jaclyn Narracott in skeleton claimed silvers, and Tess Coady a bronze in slopestyle snowboard.
“I said at the start of the campaign that four medals would be fantastic and they have been fantastic,” Chef de Mission Lipshut told a news conference on Saturday.
“But as much as we celebrate the medals and the personal bests, we also feel the disappointment of those who came here and fell short of what they want to achieve.”
Lipshut mentioned world champion Laura Peel, fifth in the aerials, Belle Brockhoff, fourth in the snowboard cross final and Bree Walker fifth in the monobob as “those that got away”.
Australia’s professional sporting culture, headlined by its cricket and rugby teams, has traditionally been focused far more on success than participation but Lipshut said that athletes were “people first and sportspeople second”.
When asked about the treatment of 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva by her coach after her traumatic series of falls, Lipshut said: “The way that we’ve consoled our athletes who haven’t met their performance expectations is a very different experience to that of the young figure skater.
“When a young person, especially an underage person, hasn’t met their own expectations, anybody involved in sport really needs to look after those people.”
Australia sent 43 athletes to Beijing and has concentrated its funding on sports where it can be generally competitive, which Lipshut said gave the team “more genuine medal prospects” than in previous Games.
“We have achieved a record seven top five results and a record nine top six results,” he said.
“I’ve also received many positive comments and there has been a lot of joy at these Games. It’s been a great experience and still fun and I hope their efforts will inspire a new generation of athletes to take up winter sports.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)