As an aspiring gymnast Lydia Lassila dreamt about winning Olympic gold on the beam. Four years ago that dream came true – at the Winter Games. In swirling fog on Vancouver’s Mount Cypress she nailed a near-faultless triple-twisting triple somersault in her sport of aerial skiing.
Now she’s aiming to become the first Australian athlete to win back-to-back Winter Olympic gold.
“It would mean that I not only had the guts to defend my title, but also the guts to follow through with it till the end,” Lassila says.
“It would mean that I did the jumps I have always believed I could do and would cement me as the greatest female aerial skier ever. That would be something.”
One audacious jump stands in her way – a quad-twisting triple somersault – hard to say and even harder to execute. No woman has ever landed the jump on snow.
“It will depend on weather but if the weather is good enough for triple flips, then it’s good enough for a quad.”
The format for the Sochi Olympics is very different to Vancouver. Fortunately Lassila was given a chance to try it out at the Beijing World Cup just before Christmas, where she finished in second place. Instead of the event being held over two days with qualifications on the first day and finals on the second, it will be staged over one gruelling five-hour day. From 12 finalists, eight will advance to the next round with the top four going through to the super final. Scores are then wiped clean as the super finalists compete for the medals. It’s at this final stage Lassila is proposing to unleash her quad-twisting triple.
“In Beijing, I did a total of 10 triples in the one night, which is a lot and as you advance through the finals, the tricks get more difficult, so now I know to be prepared for a marathon not a sprint,” she says.
“(I need) to conserve energy the best way I can so that I have enough in the tank to get through each round safely and build in difficulty.”
Safety is something that’s always on Lassila’s mind. In 2006 she blew her knee out in the Olympic final in Turin but past injuries and a two-and-a-half year old son (who prefers to take his shovel out and dig in the snow) haven’t made her more timid.
“I can’t afford to be if I am to compete triples,” she says.
“If I wanted to be tentative I would stick to doubles. It doesn’t mean I’m not afraid – I’m afraid every day. But the fear of not reaching my potential is much greater than the fear of injury and that’s what pushes me to get up there on the triple with the boys.”
She says motherhood has changed her in other ways.
“I cry a lot more and in many ways I am softer and more compassionate,” she says.
“Kai melts my heart and it’s very tough to leave him behind. However, I am still the same beast. I am still competitive and I still have the same hunger and will to do this sport with the purpose of being the best ever.”
At 32, these Games are shaping as Lassila’s fourth and last Olympics. For now though her mind is set on improving her landings and adding one more twist.
“I guess I just have this underlying belief that I can be better and that I can push myself further – push the sport further and leave my mark forever.”
In February a nation of largely clueless, but committed, armchair experts will hold its breath and hope she does.