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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 12:02 GMT

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay swallows some British pride to salute the all-conquering Australians in Salt Lake City.

From everyone else's point of view, Australians have an annoying, almost arrogant habit of being rather good at most sports.

But not even the most die-hard Aussie would have expected any success in Salt Lake City.

The country has competed at the Winter Olympics since 1936, but only picked up two bronze medals in that time.

Indeed, their one big hope here, freestyle skier Jacqui Cooper, injured herself badly in practice and was forced to fly home for surgery.

"We were preparing to go home without any medals," admits senior Channel 7 television executive Harold Anderson.

But within the space of 48 hours, Australians now have two medals to celebrate - both of them gold - with one of them in that very same freestyle skiing event.

It was Cooper's good friend Alisa Camplin who stole the show in the aerials at Deer Valley, and capped a tremendous three days for her nation after Steven Bradbury's equally stunning, if fortuitous, short-track skating triumph on Saturday.

"We can't quite believe it, but what is clear is we are now one of the leading winter sports nations in the world," says Anderson, trying his hardest not to laugh out loud.

Amazingly, the first female Olympic champion from Down Under revealed after her victory: "It's crazy. This is the first time I've ever won anything."

Even triple world champion Cooper, who watched on television from a Melbourne hospital hours before undergoing an operation to reconstruct her shattered knee, managed a smile.

"It was hard for me today, but on the flipside, to watch Alisa win was fantastic for her and Australia," she said.

Like Cooper, and Bradbury too, Camplin has suffered career-threatening injuries, a torn medial ligament and several nasty concussions almost ending her Olympic dream.

But as far as the Australian public are concerned, the more bizarre an athlete's background, the better.

"We love heroes who are battlers," Anderson confirms.

Irony

Camplin and Bradbury both certainly fit into that category.

She learned to jump over a "disgusting, scum-covered pond" in her back garden.

He recovered from a horrific accident in 1994 when he impaled himself on another skater's blade and suffered 111 stitches in his leg and a four-litre blood transfusion as a result.

With their two golds safely tucked away, the current medal table now even puts 'AUS' above 'AUT', with Fritz Strobl the only Austrian champion so far.

The irony was not lost on Camplin.

"I can't tell you how many times I've been in the start gate and been called Austrian," she said.

"Don't people know Austria is snowy and Australia is always sunny?"

There is the rub.

Despite no real winter pedigree, the Aussies have gatecrashed the party at Salt Lake in some style.

And hard as it is for a Brit whose athletes have not even come close to a medal of any colour yet, I cannot begrudge them their glory.


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