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How Brisbane, of all places, became Australia's Winter Olympics 'secret weapon'

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Queensland might seem an unlikely home for elite snow skiers but the $6.5 million ski ramp at Brisbane’s Sleeman Sports Complex means Australia’s Olympic aerial ski team will no longer have go cap-in-hand to overseas training facilities.

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It is hard to imagine why Queensland would be the ideal location to train year-round for a sport from the Winter Olympics.

But with a long-awaited ramp built at Brisbane’s Sleeman Sports Complex, Australia’s elite aerial skiers now get to train on the best outdoor ski facility in the world.

Construction began on the $6.5 million ramp a year ago and its completion could not have come at a better time.

The Flying Kangaroos aerial ski team would normally have to travel to overseas for training, but that is practically possible during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Olympian Danielle Scott said it was incredible to finally have a training facility on home soil.

“It really means the world,” Scott said.

“We’ve been at the mercy of other countries for so long, and all that money that we’ve been putting overseas can now be put back into Queensland and Australia.”

Team coach Dave Morris, a three-time Olympian, recalled difficulties in his own career from not having a training facility in Australia.

“We’ve been kicked out of facilities in Olympic years, just because we were a threat to them, so they just said ‘there’s no more room for you here’,” he said.

From the top of the new 37-metre-high facility, athletes can reach maximum speeds of over 70 kilometres an hour and launch up to 17 metres in the air to practise their aerial manoeuvres.

Scott said the plastic ramp was the perfect way to emulate jumping on snow.

“We have the same skis and boots, just [with] a life jacket and a wetsuit, and we basically have the same jump shape, just built out of a plastic surface, which allows us to practise those jumps and land safely in the water,” she said.

“We try to simulate the exact same environment, so that’s the coaches’ calls, calls in the air, the timing of the bubbles when the clock’s running in competitions.”

Fellow Flying Kangaroos member Abbey Willcox said the facility would give them a competitive advantage ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

“Usually our training times are determined by other countries, and, you know, they get the ramp first, we get it second,” Willcox said.

“But now we can train whenever we want, whenever we need to, so it’s looking good for the future.”

Eight of Australia’s 15 winter Olympic medals — including three gold medals — have come from aerials and moguls.

Australian athletes had previously logged more than 3500 hours preparing for the Winter Olympics at a water ramp facility in the US.

But many international centres are forced to shut down during the winter months when the ramps freeze over.

That won’t be a problem in the sunshine state, making the Brisbane centre the only ski facility in the world that can operate year-round.

“We’ll offer that [to other teams] accordingly, as long as it’s still a bonus for us, and we can still beat them,” Morris said.

The centre’s official opening has been delayed due to COVID-19, but the facility is already being used by the country’s elite aerial skiers.

Morris said they also hoped it would help foster broader Australian interest in aerial skiing in the years to come.

“It also helps us to get development teams [and] recruit new athletes who have never seen the sport before and might just come by and look and think ‘that looks cool’,” he said.

– ABC / Brittney Kleyn

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