Australia’s most successful Winter Olympian, Dale Begg-Smith, has sensationally crashed out of the Sochi Olympics.
Begg-Smith, 29, immediately declared that he would be retiring from the sport, in which he has previously won gold and silver Olympic medals.
The Canadian-born Begg-Smith failed to qualify for the finals after a spectacular crash on his second run sent him sprawling face first into the snow.
It was the first time in 64 starts – dating back to 2005 – that Begg-Smith, considered one of the most technically equipped skiers in the sport’s history, had missed a final.
“I just wasn’t feeling it today. I got really sore. I haven’t skied in the soft snow for four years. You’ve got to train in Australia if you want to get some of that,” he said.
It was kind of a desperate move coming back this year. My body wasn’t there.
“I was feeling a little bit off, couldn’t get centred and then in a desperate move tried changing lines and moving things around, ‘cause I knew the line I was in wasn’t working for me. It is what it is and there wasn’t much I could do when I was on my face.”
Begg-Smith took a break from the World Cup circuit in 2010, returning only in December last year in a bid to qualify for Sochi, which he did easily. Despite that, he acknowledged that such a long break from top level competition had left him unprepared.
“It was kind of a desperate move coming back this year,” he said. “My body wasn’t there. If you don’t ski for three years you’re kind of hoping for a miraculous performance and there were a few good ones along the way, but it just didn’t work out here.
“If you’d been training you’d be ready for all the different conditions and you’d be changing with them.”
Begg-Smith, an internet entrepreneur, has an enigmatic reputation as a result of his aversion to publicity. He joked that he would become an “international man of mystery”. “I’ve got to keep you guys guessing,” he said.
His final position in his final event was 25th, a far cry from a career in which he has won 18 World Cup events and been on the podium 29 times. In fact he had never previously failed to achieve a podium finish in a major championship.
Of the other members of the Australian mogul team, Matt Graham was the standout performer. He finished seventh, missing out on joining the final six for the super final by the narrowest of margins.
Brodie Summers, who skied well to make the first final, finished 13th. Sam Hall did not qualify for the finals and finished 24th, one spot ahead of Begg-Smith.
Canadian Alex Bilodeau made history by successfully defending his title, going one better than Begg-Smith, who won gold in 2006 and silver to Bilodeau in 2010. Compatriot Mikael Kingsbury took silver and Russia’s Alexandr Smyshlyaev bronze.
On a disastrous day for the Australian team, speed skater Daniel Greig fell in the opening strides of the 500 metres to finish the event in last place. He will have a chance to make amends in the 1000 metres on Wednesday.
In addition, snowboarder Torah Bright fell repeatedly in training for her pet halfpipe event, and was highly critical of the course.
And aerial freestyle skier Lydia Lassila crashed three times during practice for the defence of her 2010 crown.
“It’s tough,” Lassila said after her session. “A lot of people were having a lot of difficulty with the landings.”
• Dutch twins Michel and Ronald Mulder created history by taking gold and bronze in the 500 metre speed skating. The Netherlands completed a trifecta in the event, with Jan Smeekens taking silver.
• Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch won the women’s super combined slalom from Nicole Hosp of Austria and Julia Mancuso of the US. Australia’s Greta Small finished 15th.
• The men’s 1500 metre short track skating final was won by Canada’s Charles Hamelin from China’s Tianyu Han and Russia’s Victor An.
• In the 12.5 km biathlon pursuit, France’s Martin Fourcade won gold from Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Repubic and Jean Guillaume of France.