KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — The pursuit of two-time Olympic medalist Dale Begg-Smith began before the Sochi Games even started — and not by competitors on a moguls course, but by reporters near the airport concourse.
The 29-year-old Begg-Smith — who is coming off an array of injuries that led to a three-year hiatus — was chased the night he arrived in town. Australian reporters and TV crews tried to get footage of him as he sat in a car before being whisked away, the door swinging shut behind him.
He nonchalantly described the attention as "flattering" following a day in which he lost his luggage and missed his initial ride from the airport.
"People care to see what's going on," the notoriously reclusive Begg-Smith, who was born in Canada but has competed for Australia at the last two Olympics, told a news conference Tuesday.
With good reason. He won gold at the 2006 Turin Games and silver four years later in Vancouver. And while he didn't exactly retire following Vancouver, Begg-Smith didn't really know if he would return, either.
His knee, hip and back were all hurting, leading him to take about three years off to rest his aching body.
As the pain subsided, his desire to compete only soared, which is why he's back on the slopes in Sochi.
"I think I always had in the back of my mind that I would, at some point, want to return," Begg-Smith said. "I figured I'd take some time away, and really work on some physical things, in the gym, to see if I could get the body in shape. If I did, I always thought I'd come back. But you just don't know at that point."
Begg-Smith returned to snow in September and to competition last month, where he finished fifth in a World Cup meet in Ruka, Finland.
He knows he's an underdog in Sochi, especially since the judges haven't seen his style of skiing all that much in recent seasons. But he actually feels like he was more of an outside contender in Vancouver, given that he was on crutches six months before the 2010 Games because of his knee.
"It's like riding a bike — you see that you will perform when you need to," he said. "Then you've just got work your skills, so when you do perform it's at a high level."
His last Winter Olympics?
"I would hope so," Begg-Smith said. "Getting too old. I'm like the old guy out there."
Begg-Smith certainly had an interesting arrival on Monday. He was waiting around for a ride that never arrived. So he had someone help him find an alternative, going from one side of the terminal to the next. He had agreed to walk through a waiting pack of Australian media on arrival but left through another exit. The cameras followed him, and the episode caused a stir in the domestic media Down Under.
Over the last few years, Begg-Smith has been traveling quite a bit, spending time in North American, Caymen Islands and London, but making rare trips to Australia. Usually, he could be found in the gym, too, trying to get his body restored to mogul-skiing order.
All the work just to be ready in case he decided to return.
"I saw the team improving and you kind of get the itch when you see the Olympics coming up," he said. "These are fun to come to. I thought I'd come back, work with the guys a bit, see if I could learn how to ski again."
He's serving as a mentor to the likes of Matt Graham — when he's asked.
"You have to wait for an athlete to want advice," Begg-Smith said. "A lot of cases they have certain questions about competing, about the Olympics, or certain technical things that can be explained a different way than a coach can explain it. They help me, too."
Asked if he might hold back in the competition given his relatively short amount of time on snow, Begg-Smith scoffed at the notion.
"If I'm going to get injured, I'd prefer to do it during the event," he said. "During training, I definitely take it easy, making sure I know the course and what I want to do. When it comes down to the big event, of course I'll let go. I'm not worried about getting injured from the sake of, 'Oh, it hurts,' point of view.
"It's more I don't want to get injured and miss the event."