Lydia Lassila could be forgiven for feeling more than a little jittery four days out from the Sochi opening ceremony, but that’s not her style.
Her mindset has a way of dealing with butterflies. She is a champion aerial skier. She conquers fear for breakfast. It’s hardly surprising the reigning winter Olympic gold medallist doesn’t allow herself to worry about things she can’t control. At these games, that’s a good thing.
“I’m aware of the controversy and it’s unfortunate because that is not what being an Olympian represents to me. I may be part of a controversial Olympics, but I as an athlete am trying to push my body and mind to its purest limits,” Lassila says.
“There have been no shortcuts in my career and I have survived and pushed through the setbacks by myself – which has made me a stronger person. That is what the Olympics should be about.”
Sadly, the lead-up to the Russian games has been all about corruption, terrorism and anti-gay legislation. Could it be any more welcoming?
Authorities have placed a “ring of steel” around Sochi, but there are growing fears there could be further terrorist attacks close to or in Sochi itself.
“I probably fear more for tourists. But again, this is such an uncontrollable and something I can’t stress about because I have enough going on,” she says.
More than 50 current and former Olympians, including Australian bobsleigh brake-woman Jana Pittman, have called on Russian authorities to repeal anti-gay laws that forbid “gay propaganda” directed at under-18s.
Lassila says she won’t speak out about the issue while she’s away competing.
“I believe everyone should be able to live the life that feels right for them.”
To win back-to-back gold in this sport takes great courage and focus. It also requires an ability to be calm in the face of adversity.
Freezing temperatures of -25C at Lassila’s training base in Finland have been less than ideal. However, she is pleased to report things have “warmed up” a bit. Her training is back on track and she’s making good progress with her landings every day.
Importantly, she says, she’s feeling “healthy, confident and extremely motivated”.
The average temperature in Sochi in February is 8.3 – the warmest ever for a winter Olympics – and purely tropical compared to Finland.
“I’m expecting it to be soft and sticky conditions, which is never ideal but uncontrollable. It was similar in Vancouver four years ago and I know that the organisers will do their best with having the site in the best shape they can,” she says.
Lassila will have five days of training in Sochi before her event. Weather permitting she says this will give her plenty of time to continue working on her quad-twisting triple somersault, the new trick she hopes will bring home another gold.
No woman has ever performed this jump on snow. If she does it, her two-and-a-half year old son Kai won’t be there to see his mum create history.
“Kai is with me here in Finland after being apart for a month so it’s great to be a family again. It’s brutal being away from him but I try and do the best I can. It’s not easy.
“He knows the Olympics are soon and that he’ll have to stay in Finland with grandma and grandpa while mum and dad go to Russia. He has become so independent and copes amazingly well without me. I don’t think he gets too spoiled but he sure does get plenty of love.”
It sounds as if this young man has inherited some of Mum’s mindset.