Lydia Lassila (Ierodiaconou)
Lydia Lassila always believed she would possess an Olympic gold medal one day ... first as a gymnast, then during 10 years as a freestyle aerial skier. She was a gymnast for nine years before she became part of one of the grand campaigns of the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia, aimed at turning acrobatic athletes into Olympic aerial champions. She followed a route first explored by Kirstie Marshall, Jacqui Cooper and Alisa Camplin. For Lydia, the journey to gold on Cypress Mountain at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games was sometimes painful, often frustrating.
She attended three Olympics, and for much of her time in the Cooper-Camplin era was something of a bridesmaid: she was four times a runner-up for a World Cup title (in 03, 04, 05 and 08) before winning in 2009. Just two years after she first began to ski, she finished eighth at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. In 2006, after tearing her left knee in a water jump training accident, she underwent radical surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament. Just eight months later she went to the Turin Olympics, a heavy favourite to win gold. On her second jump she landed awkwardly, tearing the injured knee apart: it was a horrific injury, whose footage (with its accompanying, awful screams of pain) remains haunting years later.
Then came another knee reconstruction, extensive rehabilitation in 2007 and marriage to former Finnish moguls skier Lauri Lassila. After winning the 2009 World Cup, Lydia was again favourite for the Games of Vancouver 2010. Second-placed after the first round, she won gold with an audacious triple-twisting triple somersault. She was Australia’s flag-bearer at the closing ceremony.
When the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, phoned to congratulate her after her gold-medal win, Lassila wasted no time in telling him of Australia’s need for a national water jump training centre. Events moved swiftly from there: in December 2010 it was announced that such a facility would be built in Brisbane at a cost of $12.5 million.