Water ramp will be a ‘game changer’ for winter sports: Lassila

14 June 2016

WINTER: Australia’s next crop of Winter Olympic stars will get the chance to perfect their aerial skills on a world class facility in their own backyard, with a new multi-purpose water-ramp facility announced to be built in the northern NSW city of Lennox Head. 

After a decade of lobbying by Australia’s leading athletes and sport administrators, including Olympic Winter Institute of Australia Chairman Geoff Henke, this vision is set to be a reality.

The centre, which will be officially recognised as an Olympic training venue, is expected to be completed in 2018. The site will feature multiple ramps, an Olympic sized pool and be open all-year round at the Lake Ainsworth Sport and Recreation Centre.  

The venue will include a lift to maximise the number of jumps an athlete can do in a session, and the facility will also be used for summer sports including water polo, diving and synchronised swimming. 

One of the biggest advocates for the Australian-based facility has been multiple Olympic aerial skiing medallist Lydia Lassila who was ecstatic with today’s announcement from the NSW Government. 

“This is definitely a game changer for Winter Sports in Australia,” said Lassila. 

“We’ve been fighting for this water ramp for many years now and now that it will be built it is going to give us a huge edge ensuring the longevity of our athletes as well as help us recruit more, and increase depth throughout our programs. 

“The location is perfect in terms of the climate and proximity to the airport so it’s going to be a great addition to the area.” 

NSW Sports Minister Stuart Ayres announced the project which will be jointly funded by the NSW Government ($5.9m), Australian Sports Commission ($3.5m) and Australian Olympic Committee ($1.5m) through the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia.

With many athletes spending up to 10 months of the year overseas, freestyle skiing and snowboarding is an extremely costly venture, something Lassila believes will be somewhat curtailed by a world-class domestic training centre. 

“Due to the cost of overseas training and competing it has limited the amount of athletes we can attract to our sport. 

“With this we can now get a lot more depth with our athletes and coaches on home soil. 

“As a result of the ramp being open 12 months a year we can fast-track the athlete’s progression and help to get more longevity out of athletes like myself who are at a different stage of their career. 

“This will be giving us an ultimate edge and that’s what we really want, an advantage over our competitors instead of being on the back foot.” 

Another of those at the forefront of the campaign to secure the facility is long-time Australian Winter Olympic Team Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman. 

Just like Lassila, Chesterman saw the announcement as a momentous day in Australian sport. 

“It’s a massive step forward for Winter Sports in Australia,” said Chesterman. 

“We’ve achieved so much over the last few years especially in the likes of aerial skiing and the other sports that will be able to train there, but we know that if we don’t have a domestic facility that we can train on then we won’t be able to keep up with the rest of the world. 

“It’s a great boost to our current athletes but also a huge boost to our future programs.” 

With the majority of Australia’s winter Olympic medals won in sports that will benefit from the training centre, the nation’s prospects of gracing the Olympic podium in years to come appear to only be getting stronger. 

“The facility will help to service a number of our athletes from our strongest sports and no doubt help in their progression. 

“It will also help us compete in a lot of the sports that have just come onto the program or are set to debut like slopestyle or big air.” 

Lassila is confirmed as one of all-time greats on the snow, the 34-year-old believes that this achievement might be her biggest yet. 

“I’m in a different phase of my career now and being able to mentor younger athletes is the priority over winning medals. 

“What is important for me now is that I’m doing everything I can to make sure the younger athletes have the best opportunity possible to succeed.” 

Having been to three Olympic Games, Lassila is still undecided on going to a fourth in 2018. 

However even if she has wrapped up her illustrious career prior to the venue opening she is confident she will be a regular at the facility as she ushers in the new wave of Olympic champions.  

“Just like I am now with mentoring younger athletes, I think I’ll always be involved in some sort of capacity in the sport and I would be crazy not to continue.” 

Matt Bartolo

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