14 June 2016


It has been 10 years in the making, but Australia’s Winter Olympic leaders finally have the green light to build a water ramp facility they believe will underpin future international success.

NSW Sports Minister Stuart Ayres will today announce the $10 million facility will be built at the Lake Ainsworth Sport and Recreation Centre at Lennox Head in subtropical northern NSW.

Olympic aerial skiing gold medallist Lydia Lassila said the project would be a “game-changer’’. “It makes all the difference because every bit counts between gold and bronze medals,’’ she said.

The water ramp will be a joint venture between the NSW government, which will contribute $5.9m to build an Olympic-sized pool at the site, and the Australian Sports Commission ($3.5m) and the Australian Olympic Committee ($1.5m), which will supply the ramps so the athletes can practise jumps into the water.

Winter athletes learn new jumps and tricks landing on water first before transferring them to snow.

Key figures in Australian winter sport have been agitating for such a facility for a decade so Australian freestyle skiers and snowboarders can train at home rather than having to do extended training camps overseas.

The expense of that process has severely limited Australia’s development in winter sports.

Australian athletes have won two gold, one silver and two bronze medals in aerial skiing over the past four Winter Olympics, gold and silver in moguls skiing and gold and bronze in snowboard half-pipe, despite having to travel the world to find appropriate training facilities. But the more successful the Australian team has become the more difficulty they have had accessing their competitors’ water jumps.

Australia’s first Olympic skiing gold medallist Alisa Camplin met with former prime minister John Howard in 2006 to lobby for an Australian facility and Lassila raised it with Kevin Rudd in 2010, when he phoned her in Vancouver to congratulate her on her victory.

The Queensland government came on board after federal money was allocated and a pool was built at the Chandler Aquatic Centre, but premier Campbell Newman cancelled the project in 2012 before the ramps were built, dashing the hopes of athletes and officials.

The godfather of Australian winter sport, Olympic Winter Institute chairman Geoff Henke, said they had been through “the slings and arrows of government’’ but he was thrilled to see the project approved.

“When Brisbane fell through, Lydia rang me and she was crying,’’ Henke said.

He believes a screening of a documentary on Lassila’s preparation for the Sochi Winter Olympics, The Will to Fly, in the NSW parliament house this year achieved the breakthrough. Ayres and his office staff all attended, as did Treasury staff.

“That’s when they understood what it was all about,’’ Henke said.

Winter Olympic team chief Ian Chesterman said the water ramp was “the missing piece of the jigsaw”.

“It’s the underpinning infrastructure for freestyle skiing and snowboarding, but it will also be a multipurpose facility for swimming, water polo and synchronised swimming.’’

Lassila is considering a run at a fifth Olympics in 2018 and hopes the facility, due for completion in 2018, is up and running before those Games.

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