Imagine you are a skier flying down a steep incline at about 65 km per hour and hitting a four-metre jump which sends you flying 20 metres high over another ski slope. And all the while, as your body flips several times in the air, you try and focus on the spot on which you’re aiming to land feet first.
Welcome to the thrilling, and dangerous sport of Freestyle Skiing Aerial event.
One of the world’s best practitioners of the sport is Melbourne-born Lydia Lassila (nee Ierodiaconou) who, next week, will be aiming to create history in the sport by becoming the first Australian athlete to compete in five Winter Olympics. After competing in her first in Salt Lake City in 2002 as a 20-year-old, the now 36-year-old mother of two will be the most experienced member of the Australian Winter Olympic team competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
In between her first Winter Olympics and these, her self-described final games, Lassila competed in the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, where she suffered a severe injury. She came back from that injury to capture a gold medal for Australia in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and followed that up with a bronze medal in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.
After being unsure whether or not to retire after the 2014 Games, Lassila decided to take to the aerials for Australia one more time in South Korea.
“I didn’t declare retirement and took some time off but then realised I loved the sport so much that if I had the opportunity, will power, motivation, and my body is in good nick to do it that I shouldn’t deny that.
“That was the whole motivation for coming back.
“I do have a different sense leading into these Olympics; it’s a sense of closure. Finishing, closing a chapter I suppose . . . and starting something new.
“I think it is really important for the athlete to have that feeling of knowing and being comfortable about their decision of being done, retiring.”
Amongst Lassila’s many achievements, she is a trail blazer in her sport, becoming the first woman skier to successfully complete a quad-twisting triple somersault, which she achieved during a training session at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Lassila’s milestone jump launched her sport sky high.
At the 2018 Winter Olympics, Lassila is hoping to finish her Olympic career by taking out a historical third medal, and become the first Australian to win three Winter Games medals. And if her second-placed performance in the recent women’s World Cup freestyle skiing aerials at Lake Placid, New York, is anything to go by, she stands a good chance of achieving that goal.