Defending Dale, a Champion

February 16th, 2010

Words – Tess Cook

Dale Begg-Smith climbed onto the podium to a healthy Canadian cheer. Right there, in the moment, he looked pleased, not that he was smiling, but there was an emotion on his face that seemed to come from within; his eyes spoke of some genuine feeling as he bent to accept the silver medal, he is, it seems, happy.

Dale Begg-Smith. Image – AAP

it was an improvement on the impassive stare he maintained at the flower ceremony directly following his tight defeat by Canadian and main rival Alexandre Bilodeau at the moguls course yesterday. It was easy to see how the nickname ‘The Iceman’ came about, and for his seeming ungraciousness the press has lambasted him for the past 48 hours.

He has been criticised for his poor sportsmanship – a handshake was all he offered Bilodeau by way of congratulations in the moment and for not showing enough emotion – whatever the quantitative measure of that may be – at this most emotive time and called the ‘villain’ of the Games in the Canadian press – which is collectively unable to move past his switch of allegiance.
His measure is found in what he does quietly
But the measure of the man is hardly to be found in his reserve. His aversion to the spotlight makes it difficult to read him. Even his coach says “he doesn’t feel emotion like normal people.” But one only has to note his body language – the swinging arms waiting for the flower ceremony, rocking back and forth in his chair speaking to Eddie McGuide on Channel 9 last night – to see he’s not comfortable in public situations.

The real Begg-Smith though, from the glimmers of him that come through, is someone who seems to deserve respect. Earlier this year he donated his World Cup season’s winnings to the relief effort in Haiti.

“I’m glad to be able to make this donation to the Haitian relief effort,” He was quoted. “The devastation and trauma that these people have endured is horrific.”

“Hopefully we can collectively band together as a society to help in the recovery efforts.”

Dale Begg-Smith in yesterday’s final. Image – Dan Himbrechts

Australian media debates the story
A gesture that says more about him than the width of his smile, as does his support of the fledgling Australian moguls team. While the Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Fitzsimons this morning declared him not really an Australian, those who know him say he is a genuine and committed member of the Australian mogul team and a mentor for his young compatriots.

The Fitzsimons piece prompted James Valentine on ABC radio in Sydney to a talk-back segment on the story this afternoon, he was inundated with calls of support for the medallist, one caller was the parent of girls in that moguls training squad, who had nothing but praise for the quiet, genuine way Begg-Smith encourages the kids he trains with.
Last night Begg-Smith told Eddie McGuire he hoped to move into a coaching role with the moguls team – the Australian moguls team – and has hopes for developing it into a squad with the depth to win us more medals in the future.

For certain, he was an awkward interview, but with Eddie attempting to steamroll him into criticising the judges’ decision to deny him the gold who can blame him. Since his teens he’s had to avoid the media’s preoccupation with all the elements of his life not related to his performance on the mogul field, why should he welcome the press with open arms?
And yes, he could have smiled for Bilodeau, but imagine how you’d feel – not for loosing, though no athlete becomes the best in the world by being happy to accept defeat – but for the outcome of a saga that has been created and propagated with vicious fury by the Canadian media ever since they hit upon the realisation that the ‘deserter’ they love to hate would have to defend his Olympic title on Canadian soil against a Canadian favourite.
It’s hard to smile in the face of the triumph of your bullies, every school yard victim knows that, especially when they are going to be so unsportsmanlike as to crow about it from Montreal to the Yukon.