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Friday, September 30, 2022

For Australia, the Winter Games may be fertile ground for gold.

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Australia’s Olympic history dates all the way back to 1896, when it took gold in two events at the first modern Games.

The country has continued to collect gold medals, thanks to greats like the swimmers Dawn Fraser and Ian Thorpe, the track athletes Cathy Freeman and Betty Cuthbert, and various cyclists, rowers and sailors.

For reasons of climate and geography, though, Australia is not a Winter Olympics powerhouse. It had a total of only five gold medals coming into Beijing, compared with the 164 gold medals it has in the Summer Games.

But 2022 is developing into a bit of a bumper year for winter sports Down Under. Jakara Anthony won the women’s moguls event in freestyle skiing. And Jaclyn Narracott leads after two heats going into the women’s skeleton final on Saturday. The third run is at 7:20 a.m. Eastern and the final run is at 8:55 a.m.

Narracott, 31, finished 16th four years ago, and though she won one World Cup race this year, she was not considered among the prerace favorites. (To date, a 10th-place finish is Australia’s best ever in a sliding sport.)

“We are going to have an Australian leading at the halfway mark of the women’s skeleton,” the commentator Alister Nicholson said on Australian television. “I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing.” His remarks summed up the reaction of many Australians, who are discovering that the Winter Games may also be fertile ground for gold.

Australia’s first Winter gold was one of the biggest flukes in the history of the Games, as Steven Bradbury took a short-track speedskating race only after every skater in front of him fell. His reaction afterward? “Hang on. This can’t be right. I think I won.”

Australia added a second gold in 2002 — a moment that is often forgotten — with Alisa Camplin’s victory in the freestyle skiing aerial event. More gold followed for the country in 2006, for freestyle skiing, and in 2010, for freestyle skiing and snowboarding. Then the gold medals stopped — until Beijing.

As the 2022 Games reach their midway point, 52 gold medals have been awarded. Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States is hoping to add one more to the country’s total of four with a win in the mixed team snowboard cross final on Saturday. Gold medals are also up for grabs in the women’s 1,000-meter short track final, where Kristen Santos of the United States hopes to make the podium. And after making its Beijing debut with a victory over China, the U.S. men’s hockey team is hoping to come out on top in its game against Canada.

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