KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA – Lydia Lassila already has a gold medal sitting back home in Australia.
At these Olympics, she was looking for something better.
So, she raised her hand and took off down the biggest ramp on the aerials course Friday night for a jump that would cement her as the sport’s foremost trailblazer regardless of whether it earned another gold or not.
She bounded off the ramp, flew six stories high and packed four twists inside of three flips. In a training run a day earlier, she had become the first woman to land that jump on snow. In the final, she bowed backward on the landing and her hands spiked against the landing hill.
The 32-year-old mom from Melbourne settled for a bronze medal but did her sport a favor — make that two favors.
She raised the bar for the next generation of jumpers, while clearing the way for another of the grand veterans of the game, Alla Tsuper of Belarus, to win the gold medal in her fifth and final try at the Games.
“I’m really happy with the bronze,” Lassila said. “I came into these Olympics wanting to get the most out of myself and wanting to push the sport. I wanted to lift barriers and inspire women to do harder tricks.”
Xu Mengtao also bobbled backward during her landing and settled for silver, giving the Chinese women their world-leading fifth Olympic medal in this daredevil sport. None of them are gold, however.
The 34-year-old Tsuper was the only skier of the four in the super final to land her jump cleanly. She scored a 98.01. At the last Olympics, she competed for Ukraine and finished eighth after winning the qualifying round — another disappointment for a woman who had been favored to medal in the three Olympics before that but had always come up empty.
“In Vancouver, when I made it to the final but I didn’t medal, I thought that was it,” she said. “I took a break for two years, had a daughter and was offered to try again.”
The victory gave her new country, Belarus, its third gold medal of the Olympics, leaving it one behind the United States, Norway and Canada, and one ahead of the host country, which has about 15 times the population.
“I don’t think it will be our last medal of the Olympics,” Tsuper said. “Our guys are still going to perform here.”