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Olympics: Australia's freestyle champ back with an itch

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The itch to compete has brought Australian freestyle Olympic champion Dale Begg-Smith out of semi-retirement and back to the moguls in Sochi after a three-year injury break.

But the 29-year-old faces more than tricky bumps on the way to a new Olympic medal in the Russian Black Sea resort.

"Based on the level of skiing, I'm happy with where I'm at," the four-time moguls World Cup trophy winner told journalists Tuesday.

"(But) the sport has kinda changed in the last few years, being centred more on jumps than turns."

Moguls, a freestyle ski discipline, requires athletes to descend a bumpy course, absorbing the shocks in their knees, and perform jumps and twists that are marked by judges.

"When I was competing before, it was 50 percent turns and now it's 50 percent turns in theory, but it's more like 70 percent aerials.

"So it's just a matter of trying to make sure that my jumps are good and large," said Begg-Smith.

A knee injury in 2009 kept the Australian out of competition for months before he returned to claim Olympic silver at Vancouver in 2010.

Still, the comeback was too quick -- after his knee, he damaged his back and hips: "my body was kinda breaking up at that point" -- and he decided to take time off.

The break lasted three years, with Begg-Smith only returning to competition last December in Ruka, Finland -- the same resort where he'd last raced.

"I saw the (Australian) team improving and you just kinda get the itch when you see the Olympics coming up.

"I think I always had in the back of my mind that I would at some point want to return," he added.

In four World Cup races this season, he has placed fifth, ninth and 12th on two occasions.

A new potential injury is still always in the back of his mind in training, but the reflexes came back quickly.

"It's kind of like riding a bike. You see that you will perform when you need to and then you just have to work your skills."

Australia has sent its biggest ever team to the Winter Games with 60 athletes, 21 competing in freestyle skiing alone.

"I think this will be the strongest Olympics that Australia's had," Begg-Smith predicted.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140204/olympics-australias-freestyle-champ-back-itch