VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Australia’s Lydia Lassila soared through the air on a mountain covered in thick fog and cleanly landed two of the hardest jumps of the day to win Olympic gold in the women’s freestyle aerials on Wednesday.
After finishing the first of two jumps in second place, Lassila showed nerves of steel as she launched herself into the air three storeys high and executed a double twisting triple back flip on her second run to secure the gold medal.
Saying she had always wanted to “jump like a man,” the 28-year-old Australian landed two different triple back flips -- a feat some male aerialists have not mastered.
As a rowdy crowd of 8,900 waved Australian flags and thrust inflatable kangaroos in the air, Lassila looked ecstatic as she skied down after a clean landing. Once she realized she had won she ran along the fence giving volunteers and spectators high fives before finding a team mate for a long hug.
“After my second jump, that was everything I could do. I was so pleased with my performance,” said the former gymnast.
Showing that China is a growing power in aerials with its program that turns acrobats and gymnasts into skiers, defending silver medalist Li Nina of China repeated the effort in Vancouver while team mate Guo Xinxin won the bronze.
The strong Chinese showing delighted their large crowd of supporters including two people who were pounding away on traditional northern Chinese drums in front of a hand painted sign saying “Go China” in Chinese characters.
A thick fog shrouded the course, making it difficult for the spectators to see though organizers said there was enough visibility for the athletes and the judges. From the stands only the silhouette of the skiers could be seen as they soared high and twisted and flipped in the air.
Noting that Cypress had seen sun, rain, snow and fog in the past week, Lassila said she had prepared for changing conditions and was actually happy to see the thick fog when she arrived since she trained under similar conditions at home.
Once Lassila was done with her jump, she had to wait for China’s Xu Mengtao, who had been leading after the first jump. Xu performed the same difficult triple twisting, triple back flip that Lassila did on the first jump but she landed awkwardly on one ski and dropped to sixth in the standings.
additional reporting by Julian Linden, editing by Miles Evans