Female athletes will again lead the Australian charge at the Winter Olympics in Beijing next month, making up a record percentage of the team.
Those flying the flag include world champion aerial skier Laura Peel, Australia’s first ever female curler Tahli Gill and Bree Walker, who will compete in the new Olympic female-only event of monobob.
Of the 44-strong team confirmed on Monday, with figure skaters Kailani Craine and Brendan Kerry the final additions, there are 23 women and 21 men across 10 disciplines.
That’s 52.3 per cent female representation, up from 45 per cent four years ago in Pyeongchang, and topping the previous highest of 51.7 in Sochi 2014.
The team also includes the first sisters in 23-year-old Gabi Ash, who will compete in aerials, and Sophie Ash, 25, who is in the moguls.
Britt Cox, who is still only 27, will compete in her fourth Olympics, as will snowboard superstar Scotty James.
Chef de mission Geoff Lipshut said both women’s and men’s programs had been treated equally and Australia had been “blessed” with high-achieving females.
There are at least six genuine medal chances including Peel and Danielle Scott in the aerials, Jakara Anthony in the moguls, snowboarder Tess Coady in slopestyle, Belle Brockhoff in snowboard cross and Walker in the monobob.
“We’ve often had the same coaches coaching men and women, so they can train together,” he said.
“We don’t see any limits as to who should be involved – it’s really on merit.
“And we’ve just been blessed to have a lot of fantastic female athletes, and they’ve led the way, which is tremendous.”
The IOC introduced the monobob for women in a bid for gender parity given men can compete in the four-man bobsleigh.
The event is unique with all athletes using identical bobs, which removes the advantage of technology and makes it accessible for more countries to become involved.
“That’s a great initiative by the IOC to have a second bobsleigh event to women, adding to the two-person,” Lipshut said on Monday.
“Rather than have a four-women event, which really plays to the very established programs and countries in sliding sports, the mono gives countries like ours a chance to do it on a lower cost basis.
“It’s really about your athleticism, and Bree is a fantastic athlete … so we’ve done really well in mono.”
A former 400m runner, Walker has claimed 12 world series podiums over the past two seasons including six gold to position herself amongst the medal favourites.
Lipshut confirmed that two flagbearers, as per the Summer Olympics, would be chosen for the opening ceremony on Friday February 4.
Australia’s mogul skiers and curlers are unlikely to attend as they are in the midst of early competition while a number of other athletes won’t have arrived by the opening gala due to strict protocol that limits their time on the ground in Beijing.
“There will be two flagbearers, that’s the norm now, and that changed in Tokyo and it’ll will continue in Beijing,” Lipshut said.
“It’s a matter of choosing those athletes that probably have meaning to actually what we’re doing with this team.
“They might have been great team leaders, and represented us in previous Games so it’s just a matter of making those really difficult choices.”
BEIJING BY THE NUMBERS:
* Team size 44 – 23 women, 21 men competing in 10 disciplines.
* Two athletes will compete in their fourth Olympics, 12 in their third, 10 in their second and 20 will make their Games debut.
* With an average age of 25.43, the team features four teenagers, with snowboarder Valentino Guseli the youngest at just 16. The oldest is ski cross athlete Sami Kennedy-Sim at 33.
* Freestyle skiing, which incorporates moguls, aerials, free ski and ski cross, is the largest team with 13 athletes, followed by snowboard with 11.
* Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt will make history as Australia’s first Olympic curlers in the mixed event, while Bree Walker will contest the women’s monobob in its Olympic debut.
* Sophie Ash (moguls) and Gabi Ash (aerials) will become the first Australian sisters to compete on the same Winter Olympics team.
(Australian Associated Press)