Park City, Utah Feb. 18, 2002 (AP by Eddie Pells)--Guess what, mate? There's a surprising new powerhouse at the Winter Olympics.
It's Australia, the sunny land of cricket, rugby and swimming, which had never won a gold medal in the Winter Games before this year. Suddenly, they have two in three days.
Freestyle aerialist Alisa Camplin joined speedskater Steven Bradbury as the latest golden child from Down Under. She won Monday, giving the Aussies one more gold than the athletes from the winter wonderland of Austria, and as many as Canada.
``That's awesome,'' Camplin said. ``We're a summer country, a sunny country. But this is amazing. It will set a great standard for Australian Olympians. Hopefully, there are some people in Australia that actually see now that winter sports are something that they can pursue.''
Joining Camplin on the podium were a pair of Canadians. Veronica Brenner took silver and Deidra Dionne won bronze.
The day, however, belonged to the Aussies and their flamboyant gold medalist, a 27-year-old accounts manager who took a hiatus from her job at IBM to make the rounds on the skiing tour.
She was only considered the second-best aerialist in her country, behind gold-medal favorite Jacqui Cooper, who went home after hurting her knee in training last week.
Camplin's biography offers a glimpse of what many Aussies have to go through to make the Winter Games.
She's an ex-gymnast. She used to train in a leach-infested lake near Melbourne, the best facility the Aussies had for their underfunded sport. She had to sell her car to make ends meet this year.
Oh, she's also not a very good skier. She didn't learn to ski until she was 19. She trampled her victory flowers because she fell on her trip down the mountain to the winner's news conference.
``Skiing in Australia isn't what it's like in North America,'' she said. ``It's a short, action-packed season, and we don't all get down the mountain as gracefully as they do over here. You see a lot of football teams out there. It's a little crazy.'' Camplin's victory brought out the old cheer--"Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi. Oi!''--from a strong Aussie contingent more used to making noise near the swimming pool, not on the mountain.
The crowd included Camplin's parents and her sister, Regina, all of whom she told to stay home for the Olympics because it cost too much and she didn't want the distractions.
She didn't know they had come to America until the end of her second jump. Turns out, that was only her second-biggest surprise of the day.
``As soon as I landed my second jump, I thought, `I feel really bad because nobody's here,''' she said. ``Then I heard my sister screaming. I said, `Oh, my party friend is here!'''
Camplin could have been the first Aussie to win winter gold, were it not for Bradbury's stunning victory in the 1,000-meter speedskating finals Saturday night. But really, she said, Bradbury's victory made things easier on her.
``When he came through, it almost pleased me that I didn't have to go out and do this,'' she said. ``I knew that was a big thing my nation was trying to chase. When Steven did it, I was like, `Good, I don't have the weight of the nation on my shoulders.'''
Camplin landed a pair of triple-twisting, double backflip jumps--the most popular trick among the 12 finalists.
Only two women tried triple flips. One was Evelyn Leu of Switzerland, who set the world record in qualifying, but finished 11th in the finals, landing hard on both her attempts and somersaulting down the mountain.
``It wasn't as I had imagined,'' Leu said. ``The whole week was great, except the last day.''
As pretty as Camplin's jumping was--arms and legs moving in straight lines against the backdrop of a clear, blue sky--she put on an even better show after it was over.
She started crying as she left the landing area and said ``Oh my God, Oh my God,'' hardlly able to believe she had done it.
In first place with three skiers left to jump, she let out a huge sigh of relief when favorite Alla Tsuper of Belarus missed her landing.
On the last jump of the day, first-round leader Russian Olga Koroleva nailed a clean, but simple jump, and Camplin gave a knowing nod, feeling she had lost the gold.
But Koroleva's jump wasn't difficult enough, and when her score was posted, Camplin realized she was the winner. The tears flowed again, then she was mobbed by coaches and her Canadian friends, who also medaled.
Brenner's second-place finish was also something of a surprise. She finished eighth in qualifying.
It was Canada's first official silver medal of these games--figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier gave theirs up when they were belatedly awarded the gold-and there was no controversy surrounding this one.
``Coming in second, I have no complaints about that,'' Brenner said. ``I thought Alisa was the best jumper out there today.''
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