In 1998 the Winter Olympic Games returned to Japan, 26 years after the Games were held in Sapporo. Snowboarding and curling joined the Olympic program, and women’s ice hockey was also introduced. In all, 72 nations took part, with Germany leading the medal table, winning 12 gold medals. Australia, for the second successive Games, would again appear on the medal table, with skier Zali Steggall wining a bronze in women’s slalom.
The men’s ice hockey tournament allowed professionals to participate for the first time. However, rather than be a boon for North American teams, with stars such as Canada’s great Wayne Gretzky competing, European teams swept the medals. The Czech Republic won gold, beating Russia 1-0 in the final, with Finland winning the bronze.
Japanese ski jumper Kazuyoshi Funaki excelled for the host country. He began the Games by winning the silver medal in the normal hill event. On the large hill, he obtained perfect style points from all five judges - an unprecedented achievement - and won the gold medal. He then earned a second gold in the team event as a member of the victorious Japanese squad. Beside him on the gold medal podium was teammate Masahiko “Happy” Harada, one of the most popular jumpers of the time. Read more>>>
Australia at these Games
Australia sent a team of 24 athletes, 16 men and 8 women, to the 1998 Winter Olympics. It was alpine skier Zali Steggall who returned as the hero, winning a bronze medal in the women’s slalom to become the first Australian to win a medal in an individual event. Australia’s men’s short track speed skating relay team won a bronze medal in 1994.
Making Steggall’s achievement more remarkable was that the team went to the Games with more realistic medal hopes than ever before. Steggall coped well with the pressure of expectations, hurtling down the slalom course with flair and class in her two runs. Freestyle skiers Kirstie Marshall and Jacqui Cooper, both among the favourites to win gold in the women’s aerial skiing, did not have such good campaigns, with neither qualifing for the final in their event.
Figure skater Joanne Carter competed in her first Olympics at the age of 17. She placed 12th, the best result ever recorded by an Australian in the women’s event.
Jason Giobbi and Adam Barclay represented Australia in the two-man bobsleigh, and joined with Ted Polglaze and Scott Walker in the four-man event. The two-man team placed 22nd, the four-man 23rd as Australia continued to improve their international standing in the sport.
Short track speed skater Steven Bradbury participated in his third Winter Olympics, competing in three events. Australia’s first Olympic snowboarder was Zeke Steggall, younger brother of alpine hero Zali.
Short track peed skater Richard Nizielski, a member of the bronze medal relay team of 1994, carried the flag in the Opening Ceremony. Zali Steggall was given the honour in the Closing Ceremony to cap off her memorable Games.