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Ian Chesterman looks back at Sochi 2014

23 February 2014

TEAM: Firstly, I must congratulate our hosts, Russia, for staging a remarkable Olympic Games.

They invested a great deal in Sochi and they have delivered in every area our Team has touched.

The venues are exceptional, the transport system worked perfectly, the Villages in the Mountain and Coastal clusters were first class.

The volunteers were a standout. Young, polite and always friendly. They were a credit to their country.

From a Team point of view, I want to applaud our athletes and the officials for the way they have conducted themselves, and for becoming a team that every Australian should be proud of.

60 athletes from over ten different sports operated as one. From where I lived, with the athletes in the mountain village, I witnessed a committed, supportive and harmonious team.

People from the same sport mixed with each other, and mixed across disciplines, sharing the dining table, sitting around playing cards, watching TV. The athletes’ lounge was always a great place to walk into any time of the day.

When they finished their sport, they went and watched and cheered others. It is without doubt, a highlight for me the way the team gelled and presented themselves, respecting the fine tradition of being a member of an Australian Olympic Team.

We won three medals, Torah Bright, silver in women’s snowboard halfpipe, Lydia Lassila, bronze in women’s aerials, and David Morris, silver in men’s aerials.

Three medals equals our best ever performance at a Winter Games matching the three we won in Vancouver in 2010.

Of course, the colour combination was different, two gold and a silver in Vancouver, compared to two silver and a bronze here.

Medals are hard to win. Gold medals even harder. Torah was just a fraction away, a quarter of one point, from another gold.

Going into these Games we were five gold from a total of nine medals. That is a strike rate that was the envy of nearly every other nation.

After these Games our record is 5 gold from 12 medals, still almost 50% gold and still, in my opinion, a very impressive strike rate.
We came here hoping to finish in the top 15 nations on the medal tally, it was always a stretch target. We finished equal 21st on the overall medal tally. 

Did we fail – no - three medals and a host of top 5, 8 and 16 results is still a remarkable achievement for a developing winter sport country.

Did we aim too high, NO. If you don’t strive you won’t achieve. Low targets are easy to get, but won’t create a culture of high performance.

We had 43 first-time Olympians out of a Team of 60 athletes. Over 70% of the Team were rookies. Many will be back, better for the experience.

We compete in extreme events. Luck plays it’s part. Often that didn’t go our way as it has in the past – just look at the men’s snowboard cross.

The critics will question if some of the 1st timers deserved to be here. Besides providing a shinning light to each of their own sports, athletes need the exposure to Olympic conditions and then they come back in four years time, or in eight years time, and they are hardened professionals, able to handle the pressure and able to win.

Lydia Lassila is a classic example. She was really a rookie in Salt Lake in 2002, she blew-out her knee in Torino in 2006 and came out and won the gold in Vancouver. That was a 10 year campaign to get to the top.

We don’t shy away from that goal of a top 15 finish. We are a country that strives for success, we want to keep improving and the signs are really good for Pyeongchang in 2018.   

Injuries to key athletes didn’t help. Anna Segal, a world champion in 2011, came here hampered by problems in both knees. She did a remarkable job to finish in 4th place.

In the same event, Russ Henshaw, a regular on the podium at big events, competed without either ACL, but still managed to finish 8th in what is a gruelling event even for someone who is 100% fit.

I want to congratulate the Aerial athletes. Two medals won from a Team of just five athletes, combined with two other top 10 places was a great result.

Lydia Lassila’s future may be uncertain but Danielle Scott, Laura Peel and Samantha Wells are certainly ready to fill Lydia’s very large shoes, with others back at home highly motivated.

David Morris was superb.

Dave is carrying the flag today in the closing ceremony and that honour could not go to a better Team player than him.

Torah Bright’s must also be congratulated for yet another enormous contribution in three events at her 3rd Olympics.

I also want to pay tribute to our flagbearer Alex Chumpy Pullin who provided great leadership throughout the period of the Games.

Why am I so optimistic about 2018?

Let’s look at the results here.

3 medals.

2 top 5 results – a fourth by Anna Segal and a fifth by our 19-year-old Britt Cox.

We had 15 top 10 results, well up from 8 in Vancouver, even allowing for the 4 achieved in new sports on the program. Many of these were by teenagers and first timers.

We had 27 top 16 finishes in Sochi - no matter how you work it that is a record. In Vancouver we had 15.

We have the nucleus of a successful Team for Korea in 4 years time.

Other issues

Much was made of the security threat coming into these Games. Security was intense, it had to be given the threat, but it was not in your face, it was not over the top.

The Team Outcast issue was distraction that we didn’t need. It was not an issue amongst the athletes, who parked it before the games, but more so parents.

To those parents I say this: By all means support your children, but at Games’ time it is best if you are seen but not heard. It creates a distraction no one needs. Step back and allow the coaches, high performance experts, the psychologists, doctors and nutritionists do their job.

As they do after every Games, the OWI will now review the past four years and plan for the next four, with its normal diligence.

The work of the OWI is recognised for its excellence and achievements throughout the world of winter sports.

We have already announced that the OWI will seek to develop a snowboard cross program that incorporates Belle Brockoff, Cam Bolton and Jarryd Hughes along with Alex Pullin.

There has been a discussion about the cost of medals and funding in general.

You cannot put a price on the cost of a medal.

Olympic success means higher participation in sport and motivation of many, particularly our children.

If more Australians are playing sport, and are fit and healthy, the Federal Government’s health bill is reduced significantly.

Kids at the grassroots level of sport need role models. Lydia Lassila, Torah Bright and Dave Morris are all role models.

In my view you also can’t put a price on the Olympic Team.

They inspire and engage with the community, particularly our children.

School classrooms across the nation have been enthralled by our athletes, and not just our stars.

Every day of these Games an athlete has reached young children via our on-line program called Chat to a Champ.

They are inspiring kids to get out and be active, to get out and have a go – to dream.

I’ve discovered that my ten year-old boy now wants to be an alpine ski racer, inspired by Greta Small.

A kid in his class wants to pursue cross-country skiing, inspired by Callum Watson. I could go on.

The idea of athletes paying HECS has been floated. This is not new.

The vast majority of athletes live off the smell of an oily rag and they are chasing their Olympic dream with only base support outside family and friends. Some are on a scholarship, but that covers costs only.

I don’t think asking them to pay HECS is justified. There are some athletes, only a handful, who are doing well out of sponsorship and endorsements, and they are deemed to be in the “business of sport” by the ATO and they do pay their taxes.

Finally, I come to the need for more support for Winter sport.

The biggest thing we need to make a difference are facilities.

The Ice House in Melbourne has been a fantastic addition but we desperately need the water jump facility to be built in NSW.

It should have been built after Vancouver in time for Sochi – let’s not let it slip again.

That facility would enable us to remain dominant in aerials and also assist greatly our athletes in moguls and in slopestyle in particular.

It would enable us to unearth much more talent in those sports.

We also need the halfpipe at Perisher. Hopefully this gets the go-ahead very soon as well.

I thank the Australian Sports Commission for their strong support of both these projects.

I’m looking forward to the closing ceremony this evening. If the opening is anything to go by, it will be superb.

A great end to a great Games.

- Ian Chesterman, 2014 Australian Olympic Team Chef de Mission

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