In a surprise twist, Down Under aerialist emerges atop heap

All-out back-full-double-full rallies Camplin to second gold in Australia's Winter history

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 19, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

PARK CITY, Utah - The most surprised person at the conclusion of the women's freestyle aerials competition was the winner.

"I won?" screamed Alisa Camplin of Australia. "What am I doing?"

The woman known as "Ace" did just that yesterday, saving her best for last with a spectacular jump that rocketed her ahead of some of the world's top skiing acrobats.

She started the day in second place. Her first jump was unexceptional, but she pulled out all stops on the second jump - a back-full-double-full. The backward somersault with a full twisting rotation and a somersault with two twists gave her a combined score of 193.47.

As she landed, she screamed, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God," and then waited with her ski tips shielding her eyes until her score was announced.

The win was a sweet one for Australia, which lost its best jumper, Jacqui Cooper, last week when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during training. It also gave Australia its second-ever Winter Olympics gold medal - and second in three days.

Canadians finished two and three in the competition, with Veronica Brenner (190.02) getting the silver and Deidra Dionne (189.26) taking the bronze.

Evelyne Leu, the Swiss woman who set the world record during the qualifying round with a score of 203.16, faded to 11th out of 12 finalists.

Alla Tsuper of Belarus, the top aerialist in the world, couldn't calm her fear of the hill at Deer Valley Resort. She passed on a triple somersault, and her second jump yesterday was markedly worse than her first jump of the day. Tsuper finished ninth.

Camplin, 27, could barely contain her joy.

"This is the first time I've ever won anything," she said. "This is the craziest thing that has ever happened to me."

That's saying a lot for a woman who trains where the only water jump available is a leech-filled pond at a dam. The jumpers feed bread to the fish in hopes they'll get large enough to eat the leeches.

"It made us tough, I guess," said Camplin.

Although she would have liked to share the podium with her teammates, Camplin said she was thrilled to be with the two Canadians.

"We girls up here are the dorkiest girls on the tour," she said of their tendency to read rather than party. "Everyone makes fun of us."

The former gymnast didn't learn to ski until she was 19, and has suffered a torn Achilles' tendon, a broken hand and collarbone, a separated shoulder and nine concussions. She even fell on her way from the flower presentation after competition to the news conference at the foot of the mountain.

After an accident two years ago, she said, the doctor evaluating her brain CT scan told her, "You should be hanging up your boots."

But, she said: "I wasn't ready to call it a day. ... The head's fine. I'm just not as smart as I was."

Not everyone was in a happy mood, however. The Russian skier who finished seventh accused the seven judges of bias in the qualifying round.

"I believe my scores are lower than I deserve," said Natalia Orekhova. "I believe the judges are biased."

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