Greek gold from the ice
Lydia Lassila talks to Laura Burgoine about winning Winter Olympic gold for Australia and taking home this year’s Don award
For many years Olympic aerial skier Lydia Lassila (nee Ierodiaconou) was fighting an uphill battle.
Already plagued with ongoing injuries, at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Lassila suffered her most public defeat after her knee gave way beneath her after landing just one jump away from the final.
However, as far as comebacks go, 2010 has been a stellar year.
Following a gold medal win at this year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Lassila was last month awarded The Don award, which recognises the person who has most inspired the nation with their sporting performance during the year.
"I'm just really thrilled my performance and my comeback from injury and my story has inspired a
few people, and that's what means more to me," Lassila says.
"I didn't really think beyond winning an Olympic gold medal, so all these awards afterwards are a really nice bonus."
In a skiing career spanning ten years, Lassila has had two knee reconstructions on the same knee and four different major surgeries in total.
"Knee injuries plagued me for about three years, I had shoulder surgery and had some pretty bad back issues," she tells.
"For a lot of my career I've been battling through injury and trying to stay afloat and trying to get in front of the eight ball rather than being behind it all the time, that's really what I struggled with throughout my career; I was good enough to be number one but was just competing at 50 percent all the time."
Lassila said the turning point was being able to see beyond her injuries and reevaluate what she needed to improve on.
Although the process of recovering from injuries was "extensive, monotonous and mostly frustrating," Lassila says she always knew she hadn't yet reached her potential.
"That inspired me to keep going. It's one thing thinking you're capable of doing something but another thing is proving it," she says.
Lassila is sitting this ski season out, but is planning to be back on the circuit next year.
"After ten years of battling through injuries and making it back I knew pretty much straight away after Vancouver that the smartest thing was to have a rest and be able to come back fresher and work on my body rather than coming back behind," she said.
"It's an intense sport and beyond being a little bit dangerous and risky it's just high impact and I don't think there's any other sport that can kind of match that."
Lassila's training schedule involves six months of training in a swimming pool and four months training on snow. She also works extensively in the gym with weight training, and swears by Pilates.
"I'm a real Pilates nut, I travel with a reformer and everything," she says, adding, "I got into Pilates in 2004 and haven't stopped since, if I don't do it my old injuries return.
"I've tried so many different things; you can do all the weight training you want but if your stabilising muscles aren't working you've got a pretty fat chance of being strong and avoiding injury," she says.
Lassila, who was 17 years old when she stepped onto the slopes for the very first time, admits aerial skiing was not something she ever imagined herself doing.
"I never planned to get into this, my first passion was Olympic gymnastics and that didn't work out for me and I didn't think I'd have a second chance and then aerial kind of found me," she tells.
When she was halfway through Year 12 at secondary school, Lassila was approached by the Olympic Institute, asking if she would consider being an aerial skiier.
"I had no idea what that was and I said 'ok, at least I'll learn how to ski' and started off like that.
"I learnt to ski for a year and then started jumping a year later, and kept building building, building, to bigger jumps as the years went on," she says.
Lassila, who says being an athlete is "who I am," is well aware competitive sport has an expiration date.
"I really believe life is full of chapters, when I'm ready to close this chapter I'll move onto the next," she says.
Taking this year off to assess her opportunities, Lassila has been far from idle.
The Greek Australian runs her own business, Body Ice, which manufactures ice-packs for injuries, an idea she was first inspired to pursue after encountering frustrations with existing ice-packs during her many injuries.
She has also been involved in public speaking and will release her autobiography, Jump, before Christmas.
The other project high on Lassila's priority list is lobbying the Australian Government to build a local training facility for Winter sports.
"Having a facility in Australia would give other athletes the opportunity to train as well as maintain a relatively normal life, normal job or studies and give them a bit more balance," she says.
"It's really important to me; at the end of the day in 50 years time I'd like to look back and think at least I've done beyond results and medals and helped the sport".
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