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Silver lining when cost is all the rage

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 23/02/2014 Andrew Webster
Photo © Ryan Pierse/Getty Images Photo

David Morris is walking around Rosa Khutor park clutching a folded Australian flag with the silver medal he claimed a week ago in the men's aerials dangling from his neck. The smile he has been wearing since completing a quad-twisting triple somersault to clinch the medal hasn't left him either.

Those who have never watched aerial freestyle skiing cannot appreciate the inherent difficulty and danger in this sport.

They prepare on water ramps before finally moving on to the snow, thrusting themselves down the slope, on to a ramp that finishes at the vertical, hurling into the air before they twist and contort and somersault, trying to land on the rest of the slope.

While we've got you, Dave, is that rather scary the first time you do it?

''I still get scared now,'' he laughs. ''On every jump, every time. There is so much that can go wrong up there. You can muck around all you want and then when it comes time to jump, that's the moment when you realise how steep the ramp is that you're about to jump from.''

Apparently, winter sports are nothing more than overpaid and overindulged athletes who come from cashed-up families who could afford leisure time in the snow, falling about like Bambi on ice, all at the taxpayers' expense.

The roars of disapproval at home, about Australia wasting its time at the Winter Olympics, are starting to be heard here in Sochi. It's easier to dismiss something than try to understand it.

This reporter came to these Games as a winter sports novice, but leaves with newfound respect and appreciation for the sports that have been played out on the coast and in the mountains over the past 16 days.

As was the case during the London Games, stories about funding and whether money is better spent are the easiest write there is, especially when it isn't raining gold medals.

Olympic funding is a complicated issue, but when it comes to this team, it equates to about $20 million over the past four years, with less than half from taxpayers. The rest predominantly comes from corporate support for the Australian Olympic Committee.

Is that too much to fork out for smiling snowboarders and the like with perfect teeth and thousand-watt smiles?

We didn't win a gold medal, so let's never send another team to the Winter Olympics? Surely, the money could be better spent on hospitals and schools and roads and those big expensive overseas trips our past and present politicians seem to take?

OK then. Maybe we should just scrap sport. Pulling tricks on a snowboard or skis has as much point as running really fast down a 100-metre-long track. Or swimming really fast over the same distance.

To put a dollar value on medals won, at any Olympics, is simplistic and ignores the intangible, unquantifiable good and inspiration sport can bring. The kid who didn't fit into footy might find it easier to fit into something that involves a ski or snowboard or skate.

How many of these winter athletes are making truckloads of money anyway? You could count them on one hand.

Canadian-born moguls skier Dale Begg-Smith doesn't make his money from competing but computer spyware. He partied hard at the Sky Club at Krasnaya Polyana after his competition before flying out the next day. When some of his Australian teammates arrived at the club the following night, they learnt he had left $10,000 on the bar for them.

Much has been made about how much Alex ''Chumpy'' Pullin has received in funding and support, but any money he makes for himself is from being such a marketable snowboarder with model looks.

Then there's Torah Bright, whose US-based management told Fairfax Media in the lead-up to the Games we could speak to the 27-year-old, then that we could not.

When told of this, her brother and coach, Ben Bright, stepped in. ''We don't want to forget the people back home, who she represents,'' he said, but added that Australian press seemed to scrutinise her too much. I suggest she never take up AFL or professional rugby league. Or even swimming.

The ensuing half-hour interview was refreshing, mainly because of her candour. Then Bright complained in a cringeworthy interview with about how '' the Australian press is notoriously nasty, always looking to take down its national stars in an ode to tall poppy syndrome''.

Bright and those around her could take a humble leaf from the book of Dave Morris. That's a brave Winter Olympian we can all admire. And he didn't even win gold.

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