She comes from the land Down Under
Aussie aerialist Camplin captures gold in dramatic fashionPosted: Monday February 18, 2002 10:16 PM
Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oy! Oy! Oy!
At Deer Valley, and at the Medals Plaza later that night, folks were learning to speak Australian.
Camplin, 27, is like a lot of aerialists: an ex-gymnast with an adventurous streak. Inspired by the ex-Aussie world champion Kirstie Marshall, she showed up at the door of Australia’s Olympic Winter Institute eight years ago and informed them that she thought she’d make a good aerialist. First, she had to learn how to ski.
The Aussie aerialists practiced their jumps off a ramp into a brackish pond in Wandin, in the bush about an hour outside Melbourne. In order to cull the population of leeches that periodically attached themselves to the athletes, fish were introduced to the pond. "It made us tougher, I guess," says Camplin, who knows from tough. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive that there could be a tougher athlete, pound for pound, in these Games. Even by the sadistic standards of her sport, in which athletes sail off a "kicker", or launching jump, up to 55 feet in the air while madly contorting themselves, the 5’2", 106-pound native of Melbourne has been inordinately banged up. Her official Olympic bio mentions a "broken collarbone, broken hand, separated shoulder, torn Achilles tendon" and -- oh yeah -- nine concussions, the most recent of which she incurred in Calgary two years ago. When she still had symptoms six days later, a doctor for the Calgary Flames encouraged her to hang it up.
She didn’t, despite having some discouraging times. None of the dozen top 10 results she’d earned on the World Cup circuit included a victory. It didn’t help that she competed in the shadow of her countrywoman, Jacqui Cooper, a three-time world champion whose star shone so bright in Australia that it tended to eclipse her teammates. That’s a bit of a shame, as Camplin, it turns out, is a delightfully quirky character. While most athletes use small flags to mark their starting spot above the jump, she uses wooden cooking spoons. Why? Early in her career, she and Cooper both used small Aussie flags to mark their spots, which led to confusion. Camplin took to "borrowing" spoons from the homes in which she stayed.
"For Alisa," says Aussie team official Nick Green, "the challenge was, trying to have her own identity, not just being another athlete beneath Jacqui Cooper. In the last six or eight months, she’s done that."
A week before the aerials final at Deer Valley, Cooper’s shadow disappeared. The gold medal favorite blew out her knee on a practice jump, throwing the door open. When Switzerland’s Evelyne Leu set a world record in the qualifying round, the 25-year-old electrical engineer assumed the favorite’s mantel. It wasn’t a comfortable fit. Poor Leu crash-landed both her jumps in the final, twice reprising Bullwinkle’s tumble down the mountain at the beginning of that classic cartoon.
The next medal favorite to crash and burn was Alla Tsuper of Belarus, who ate a fair quantity of snow while failing to successfully land her second jump. Then, in succession, Canadians Deidra Dionne and Veronica Brenner, the eventual bronze and silver medalists, respectively, stuck spectacular triple-twisting double backflips, putting them first and second. Camplin needed a 96.4 to take the lead.
The 36 hours between the qualifiers and finals had been tough on her. She’d been too nervous to eat dinner the night before. A cup of Sleepy Time tea had helped, as had an hour-long talk with her sports psychologist, Dr. Barbara Meyer. When Camplin complained that she was worried about the finals, the good doctor said, "Why don’t you drop out?"
Instead, she attacked her second jump, pigtails flying like helicopter blades as she rotated through the most important aerial of her life, a double backflip with three twists that earned her a 99.75. "It doesn’t feel real," she said moments later. "I’ve never won anything in my life."
Talk about surreal: Australia now has more gold medals than Austria. At the Medals Plaza, we’re starting to learn the words of Advance Australia Fair. The Winter Olympics are learning how to speak Australian.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Austin Murphy is in Utah covering the Olympics aerials competition for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back regularly for more behind-the-scenes coverage from Salt Lake City.