Feb 18th, 2002
Alisa Camplin became the first woman from the southern hemisphere to win Olympic Winter Games gold – not bad for a woman from Melbourne who didn’t even ski until she was 19.
In fact Camplin didn’t set eyes on snow until she was a teenager and used to practise jumps in a pond in Wandin, one hour from home, after taking up freestyle ski aerials.
Her background as a gymnast helped her to become one of the most athletic and acrobatic athletes on the circuit though, and she progressed quickly, placing fifth at the World Championships in 2001.
Even so, few gave her a chance of winning the Olympic title at Salt Lake City 2002. Compatriot Jacqui Cooper was favourite, only to break her knee in training a week before the competition.
Switzerland’s Evelyn Leu was still fancied to easily beat Camplin, who was nicknamed Little Buddy because of her diminutive stature. The Australian, who used to spend 11 months of the year training in Canada, was lucky to even be at the Games, having suffered fractures in both ankles in the run-up to Salt Lake City.
Doctors had warned her not to compete, worrying that she would struggle to walk let alone ski, but Camplin defied them and started brilliantly, placing second to Leu after the qualifying round.
“I knew that was a big thing my nation was trying to chase. When Steven (Bradbury) did it, I was like, ‘Good, I don’t have the weight of the nation on my shoulders.’”
And after the first jump of the final round she was third, behind Canadians Veronica Brenner and Deirdre Dionne, which in itself was a big surprise. Only she went even better than that with a superb second jump – a backward triple twister – to claim gold.
When she realised what she had achieved, Camplin said she immediately regretted her family being thousands of miles away, only to look into the stands and see her mum and sister there waving a homemade placard reading ‘Aussie Aussie Alisa.’
The 27-year-old said compatriot Steven Bradbury had inspired her by winning gold in the speed skating two days earlier, becoming the first Australian to win a Winter Olympic gold.
“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.’”
Four days after her victory, the Australian Post Office released a 45 cent stamp bearing her picture, and four years later, at Turin 2006, she was the flag bearer for her country, going on to win bronze. Five months after those Games she retired from the sport, having ensured her name in the history books.