Tsuper trooper earns her reward at last
An ever-present in the women’s freestyle aerials since Nagano 1998, Alla Tsuper of Belarus became an Olympic champion at the fifth attempt at Sochi 2014, pulling off a perfect jump to land a much deserved gold.
Competing in her fifth Olympic Winter Games at the age of 34, Alla Tsuper scraped into the final of the women’s aerials at Sochi 2014 as the 12th and last qualifier, edging out China’s world number two Xin Zhang by a mere 0.03 points. After cruising into the last eight with a jump of 99.18 points, the Belarusian veteran only just made it into the final four shootout. Finding top form once more, however, she executed a perfect jump and landing to score 101.08 points and claim an unexpected gold.
Grand old lady of freestyle
Tsuper made her Olympic debut at Nagano 1998, where she competed for Ukraine, the country of her birth, and finished fifth overall. Later that year she moved with her coach to Belarus, and represented the country at Salt Lake City 2002, a year in which she won the World Cup. After finishing ninth at those Games, she then took tenth place at Turin 2006 and eighth at Vancouver 2010. “At my first Games in 1998, I wasn’t nervous at all, but it got harder and harder every four years,” explains the Belarusian, who is freestyle skiing’s oldest Olympic medallist. “I decided to treat Sochi as if it was my debut appearance at the Games. And it worked: I wasn’t nervous at all.”
Out of the blue
Tsuper’s Sochi 2014 triumph came as a major surprise. The Belarusian, who had taken two years out after Vancouver to begin a family, had never won a medal at a major championships, while her last World Cup victory had come five years earlier in Lake Placid (USA), a record that led many to write off her chances of success.
Mum’s the word
Tsuper herself admitted to doubts that she would ever make an impact on the Olympic stage, commenting: “I did feel like that for a moment in Vancouver, after I made it to the final and didn’t get a medal. I had my daughter and then I was offered the chance to have another go. I started training and I did very well.” The high-flying Belarusian was not the only mother on the Sochi 2014 podium, where she was joined by bronze medallist Lydia Lassila of Australia, the Vancouver 2010 champion. “We [mums] know what we want and we just go for it,” said Tsuper.