Alex Pullin is a two-time world champion. Image courtesy of dailytelegraph.com.au/News Limited
Originally scheduled for Monday night, the Men's Snowboard Cross was postponed for 24 hours because of fog and poor visibility on the course. Alex Pullin not only has to overcame the frustrating delay, but the furore surrounding claims he's received preferrential funding, far and above the level of other Aussie competitors. It's an event eve issue which has polarised the Australian team and a distraction the hot favourite doesn't need.
Four years ago in Vancouver, a less experienced Pullin qualified fastest for the Men’s Snowboard Cross, but fell in the first round of competition and his Games dream was over. In Sochi, he comes in as a two-time world champion and the favourite for the event. With that brings extra pressure, but while his American rivals have been slugging it out just to make the squad for Team USA (Vancouver gold medallist Seth Westcott missed out), Pullin has been soaking up the sun and surf in Sydney as he prepares for the biggest event of his life.
Australia’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony has the runs on the board in this event. He won his second consecutive world championship in 2012/13. He also won the World Cup that season, as he did in 2011/12, in the process becoming the first Australia to achieve that feat. Take out his 18th place result at Lake Louise in the last event before the Games, and the man known as ‘Chumpy’ has been a model of consistency. He won back-to-back events in Switzerland last March, and before that finished 5th in the Sochi World Cup event.
Fellow Aussie Jarryd Hughes caused an upset by winning at Lake Louise in January. It was a breakout victory for the 18-year-old, but on his previous record it is hard to see him getting amongst the medals in Russia.
Austrian Markus Schairer will be hot on Pullin’s heels. He finished 3rd in the event in Sochi last year, but won his home World Cup event at Montafon in December. Nate Holland finished 4th in Sochi and is desperate to finish on the podium after failing to do so in the past two Games. Holland’s fellow American, Nick Baumgartner was the only United States starter to finish with three top-10 finishes in World Cup events the past year. Don’t be surprised to see Italian Omar Visintin with a medal around his neck, either. He won the most recent World Cup event in Andorra and finished second behind Schairer in Austria two months back.
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