Lassila’s giant quadruple leap for womankind

On 14 February, as night fell on Rosa Khutor, the defending women’s aerials champion Lydia Lassila may have ceded her Olympic crown, but she also achieved a monumental landmark for her sport.

In the course of the super final, in which she finished third behind her longstanding friend and rival Alla Tsuper of Belarus, the Australian produced something never before witnessed in the history of women’s aerials: “a back full-double-full-full”.

Going into Sochi 2014, Lassila, the reigning Olympic champion, had been one of the top aerials specialists in the world for over a decade, and was rightly billed as favourite to defend her title.

However, as the super final neared its conclusion, she found herself playing catch-up. Tsuper had delivered a magnificent triple-twisting triple somersault to set the benchmark at a lofty 98.01

Lassila revved up for her last attempt knowing that she needed to pull out something very, very special to stand a chance of retaining her title.

Fortune favours the brave

And so it was that she decided to attempt a sequence that had never before been successfully completed by a female aerial skier: a back flip followed by not one, not two, not three, but a full four full twists.

After achieving a huge lift off the ramp, Lassila produced several seconds of exhilarating magic in which time appeared to stand still. First came a full-twisting somersault, then a double-twisting somersault, and then… another single-twisting somersault. The crowd looked on mesmerised as she danced an arabesque in the air. It was audacious, it was brave, it was unprecedented.

But then came the small matter of the landing! After such a high and powerful trajectory, finding the equilibrium and poise to achieve a smooth “touchdown” was never going to be easy.

As she made contact with the snow, she momentarily lost her balance, landing on her back. A fault. One that cost her points and the title. But in the context of the momentous few seconds that had gone before it was, arguably, just a blip in history.

As she regained her composure, the Australian smiled, blowing kisses towards an ecstatic crowd, before embracing her fellow thirtysomething, and fellow mother, Tsuper who had herself produced the performance of a lifetime to take the gold.

Regardless of her rank on the podium, Lassila had written herself indelibly into Olympic history, creating a new milestone for her sport and blazing the trail that her fellow women aerial athletes will now seek to follow.

Later, as the international press gathered round, eager to relive the moment with her, she had to fight off the tears.

“It was my maximum effort and to be able to do that trick in the super-final was something, and I’ve left my mark forever (on the sport) and made history with that trick.

“It would have been great to land it, I was stretching for my life, I was really trying, believe me. I wanted it because this Olympics was really about me reaching my potential as an aerial skier,’’ she added.

15-year journey

“I have been wanting to do that trick for 15 years,” Lassila later revealed. “My first World Cup that I saw at Mt Buller in 1999, I saw the guys going off and I was mesmerised. I couldn’t ski yet, but I was mesmerised and I’m like, I want to jump like a guy, I want to do that trick.

“It’s been a long journey ever since and I’ve been trying my whole career to do that, which was important for me to do. I wanted to do it. I believed I always could…It was breaking that ground and breaking that ceiling.”