Super Tsuper ends 16-year medal wait to win aerials gold at Rosa Khutor
34-year old Belarusian freestyler Alla Tsuper, who was competing in her fifth Olympic Winter Games, shocked a top draw field to win the women's aerials title.
The Belarussian had never before won a medal in four previous attempts and arrived at Sochi 2014 ranked only 13th in the World Cup standings.
Yet the veteran was the only athlete to land perfectly in the final four shoot out and she edged out world champion Xu Mengtao of China into silver, with Australia's reigning Olympic champion Lydia Lassila taking bronze.
Harder and harder
“At my first Games [Nagano 1998], I wasn’t nervous at all, But it got harder and harder every four years,” admitted the jubilant Belarusian.
“This year, I decided to treat Sochi as if it was my debut appearance at the Games. And it worked: I wasn’t nervous at all!”
Tsuper had only sneaked into the final by the skin of her teeth as the 12th, and last, qualifier by the most remarkably small margin of just 0.03 of a point over world number two Zhang Xin of China.
She had actually stopped competing for a couple of years following Vancouver 2010, where she finished fifth, and she admitted she started to believe she would never win an Olympic medal.
“I did feel like that for a moment in Vancouver, after I made it to the final and didn't get a medal.
“I thought that was it but then I had a break for two years, I had my daughter and then I was offered the chance to have another go. I started training and I did very well."
Mum’s the word
Her victory, allied with Lassila’s bronze meant that there were two mothers on the podium, since both athletes have had children since the last Olympics.
And Tsuper, believes that being older is an advantage, helping the two of them focus on their discipline.
"We know what we want and we just go for it," she said of herself and 32-year old Lassila
Despite losing her Olympic crown, Lassila did make history as she became the first female freestyler to successfully complete a full-double-full-full.
And the Australian was gracious in defeat, praising her successor as Olympic champion.
“I'm so happy for Alla, I really love this girl. She's a great competitor, she's been around for a long time,” said the Australian.
“We've pretty much come up together because we're pretty much the same age.
“She's continued to push herself, she's been through some rough patches, she's had a lot to go through as well.
“We're both mums, I know what she's going through and she knows what I've gone through to be here and to be the best we can be.
“She jumped her heart out all this week, and tonight, and is so deserving of this medal.”
Tsuper's triumph ensured that by the end of Day 6, Belarusian athletes had already claimed three gold medals making it the most successful Winter Games in their country’s history.