The Sochi Network

50 to watch: Lassila keen to push her limits

The Sochi Network

In the run up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Reuters is highlighting the athletes to watch during the Games.

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Australian Lydia Lassila's motto is a simple and appropriate one for an athlete who spends her career launching herself into spectacular acrobatics on skis.

"The glory is not in never falling, but rising when we fall," the Australian said on Twitter last month from frozen Finland where she was training in preparation for the defence of her aerials gold medal at the Sochi Olympics.

Taking risks has always been part of Lassila's strategy and she has the bumps, bruises and rebuilt knee for souvenirs.

That is why four years ago on a foggy evening on Cypress Mountain overlooking the Canadian city of Vancouver, she peered through the gloom before nailing a perfect triple twisting somersault to snatch gold.

It is also the reason she has been working on a quadruple twisting somersault at home in the safety of the swimming pool and at her winter training base in Finland.

The move has never been executed by a woman at the Olympics and Lassila is a little miffed, to say the least, that the new judging criteria to be used in Sochi means she may not benefit from trying such an audacious trick.

"I've always wanted to do triples for a few reasons; because I want to jump like the men, to push the women's field and because I know I can," the 31-year-old, who took a break in 2011 to give birth to son Kai, told Reuters.

"It is more risky but I have trained them. Now I've been working on a quad twisting triple somersault which has never been done by a woman before and I'm hoping I get the opportunity to do it at the Olympics."

Explaining the changes to the scoring she said: "It's now judged differently. It is now a three-jump elimination final which means your points are wiped clean after each round instead of being combined like the old system.

"It doesn't encourage risk-taking, which is really what our sport is - dynamic and spectacular. It encourages you to be consistent so that you can make it through each round.

"It puts a bit of a glass ceiling on our sport - it's not encouraging women to really go out there and do triple somersaults and try to progress the sport."

Former gymnast Lassila, whose hero is Nadia Comaneci, recovered from the heartbreak of the 2006 Turin Olympics where she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament on landing.

She battled back to win an emotional gold in Vancouver and few would have blamed her if she had decided to hang up the skis and spare her knees any more punishment.

However, after the birth of Kai, she returned full-time to the sport she loves and believes she can become the first freestyle skier to defend an Olympic title in Sochi.

"We're having a great adventure together," she said of being a mum, wife to Finnish freestyler Lauri, and travelling the world competing in some unlikely venues such as the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing in December.

"Last year, I suffered a bad back injury in pre-season and carried it all the way through the season which was hell," she added.

"But at the moment I'm feeling really good, 80 or 90 percent fit, so the important thing is to stay there.

"I expect to win gold. That's the standard that I've set for myself. I don't think I would have decided to come back if I had any other goals.

"I never had the feeling of wanting to retire," she added.

"I knew I needed a break after Vancouver and time away from the sport to rest and also start a family but it was always my plan to return. I felt like I had more to give to the sport.

"I felt like I could be better which is why I'm still here and what pushes me forward.Lassila will lead a strong Australian team which also includes rising star Danielle Scott.

"We have a great strong team of athletes with all of us on the podium last year at different World Cups," she said.

"Danielle is a natural and a great competitor and I know she will go far as will others in our team like Laura Peel and Samantha Wells."

The freestyle skiing world is known for its parties but should Lassila repeat her Vancouver result she will more likely enjoy a quiet family meal.

Wary of the bad publicity caused by the antics of some of the Australian team at London 2012 that led the country's Olympic committee to issue strict conduct rules, she said: "I haven't had alcohol since April because it was a decision I made to help rehab my back.

"Seriously any disciplined athlete should be able to hold back on the alcohol."

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