Matt Graham’s Winter Olympic tears after his moguls disappointment make way for utter jubilation from young star Cooper Woods-Topalovic

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Matt Graham knew it as soon as he came to a stop.

In fact, he knew about 20 seconds earlier, as soon as he misjudged the top jump, skewing slightly left amidst gusty conditions at the top of the course that sent snow swirling around the competitors.

He might have known it then, but it only hit home once he slid to a stop.

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That was when he raised his hands to his helmeted head, tears visibly filling his eyes through his clear goggles, the realisation that his Olympic dream was over.

“This is honestly the most pain and heartbroken I’ve ever felt,” Graham said.

He didn’t need to tell us that, it was etched all over his face.

“I put in a lot of work over my whole career and just to be here I think is an achievement, but in the end I knew I could do so much better,” he said.

Australian skier Matt Graham kicks up a snowspray as he competes at the Winter Olympics in China, February 3, 2022.
As the snow sprayed behind him Graham’s feelings were written all over his face.(AP: Francisco Seco)

“I really felt like I could push the top guys tonight.

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Six months ago, Graham was one of Australia’s hottest medal prospects.

Fresh from claiming the Crystal Globe as the leading moguls skier on the World Cup scene and with a second World Championships runners up medal in his possession, Graham was building nicely towards launching another assault on the Olympic podium.

Then he broke his collarbone.

Aside from wiping out his entire competitive season, Graham had to undergo surgery, training not on snow, but through a Brisbane summer at the high-performance water jump in its eastern suburbs.

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It’s a measure of the man that Graham refused to blame the injury for his disappointing result when he had every right to point to his disrupted preparation that could easily have stopped him from even taking the field in Beijing.

“I’m definitely never going to blame a broken collarbone on what happened tonight and two nights ago, because I knew I could ski fine,” he said.

“I felt pretty good. I was pretty happy, feeling fresh, trained quite well.

Graham might not have been willing to blame the injury for his travails, but his teammates were full of sympathy.

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Australian skier Matt Graham sits beside a pool with his skis in Brisbane, January 12, 2022.
Matt Graham had an unconventional lead into these Games, training during the Brisbane summer as he recovered from injury.(Getty Images: Albert Perez)

Brodie Summers, who secured a superb top-ten finish later in the day, described Graham’s plight as “gut-wrenching”.

“The lead up he’s had to these Olympics has been full of roadblocks and ups and downs, and it wouldn’t have been easy.

“He’s put himself through a massive effort to get himself here.

“It’s a shame he wasn’t able to perform the way he knows he can and we all know he can.

“I’d say one event doesn’t define you.”

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It doesn’t, and once Graham’s pain eases, he will hopefully see this for what it is, but that pain may take time to dissipate.

“I’m just pretty heartbroken to be honest. Especially after the last Olympics being such a pinnacle and to feel such elation and satisfaction. 

“I was chasing that same feeling again tonight and yeah, not to be.”

From agony to ecstasy 

While the heartbreak of Graham was difficult to watch, the contrast with the joyous scenes that met Cooper Woods-Topalovic’s sixth-place finish provided a genuine tonic.

Australia's Cooper Woods
Woods’s technique on the turns improved on every run.(Getty Images: Patrick Smith)

Woods-Topalovic’s delighted yell as he crossed the line in the super final — just his second ever career shoot out — emphasised just how much his performance had delighted him.

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His rapturous embrace with moguls coach and uncle, Peter Topalovic, was also heart-warming on what was another freezing evening.

“That was an awesome night,” Woods-Topalovic said, his beaming smile enough to light the entire Zhangjiakou Genting Snow Park and banish the memories of the night’s earlier disappointment into the shadows.

The 21-year-old from Cooma admitted to nerves prior to Thursday’s opening run, but banished those completely with a poised, consistent display of moguls skiing, holding his control through a tough course while maintaining a blistering speed that impressed the judges throughout.



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