When Alisa Camplin won Australia’s first Olympic skiing gold medal ever at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, she ended one of the most unlikely journeys in the history of Australian sport. She was 27 years old, and for 22 of them her ambition had been to compete at an Olympic Games. For much of that time she thought it would have been in the summer Games, in either athletics or gymnastics. She rarely saw snow before she was an adult, and did not buy her first pair of skis until she was 22. Her life changed when she attended a Melbourne trampoline demonstration in 1994, at a time when Geoff Lipshut, later chief of the Olympic Winter Institute, was trying to identify potential talent for the new sport of aerial freestyle skiing. The idea was to turn gymnasts into aerial skiers. She did well, was recruited, and delivered pizzas and worked as a cleaner to raise enough money to ski.
Camplin’s passage to the Olympics involved seven years of hard labour, with a procession of increasingly difficult somersaults and some awful accidents. She broke her collarbone and a hand, separated her shoulder, dislocated her sternum twice, ripped her hip flexor out of her groin, broke both ankles, tore her right knee and cracked 12 ribs. But after she soared through two perfect triple twisting double somersaults to win the Olympic gold medal at Deer Valley, she felt all the agony had been worthwhile. In 2002/03 she won the World Championship and the World Cup title. Her world crown defence was ruined by a snapped anterior cruciate ligament suffered in a freak training accident that kept her out of action for 10 months. In another water jump training accident Camplin re-tore the same ligament only months out from the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games. She had allograft surgery to repair the knee and resumed rehabilitation in a desperate attempt to defend her crown. Amazingly she was back on the snow on Christmas Day, just six weeks from the Opening Ceremony.
The ability for Camplin to stay focused in Torino and never stop believing was her most powerful weapon. Before the final began Camplin had led the 40-strong team in the Opening Ceremony, survived a nervous wait after back slapping a landing in a postponed qualifying, and then watched teammate Lydia Ierodiaconou’s Olympic dream end when her allograft knee failed in qualifying. Twenty-four hours later as her competitors went for greater degrees of difficulty Camplin nailed her trademark triple twisting double somersaults and won the bronze medal. Although the back-to-back gold fairytale did not eventuate, what she had endured to win her second Olympic medal made her Torino bronze as sweet as her Salt Lake gold.
Harry Gordon, AOC historian