“I think representation matters. As they say, you can’t be what you can’t see. I’m really proud to be a female and to be on the world stage flying the Australian flag, ”smiled Canberra Winter Olympian and World Champion aerial skier, 32-year-old Laura Peel.
Just 15 hours after touching back down on Australian soil, Laura was jet-lagged, but happy to be home in Canberra. She took the morning to catch up with Canberra Weekly to chat about all things Olympics, female representation in sport, and falling in love with yoga.
A young Laura Peel would have been found training for gymnastics or trying to keep up with her older brothers at the ski fields. She says her family di lei loves the slopes, and at the very moment we were speaking, her mum was skiing at the Indoor Snow Sports in Fyshwick.
After her gymnastic career was over, she went off to university thinking her days of being an athlete were finished. But, at 19, Laura realized she wasn’t ready to call it quits and contacted the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia who had approached her during her gymnastic days di lei. From that day forward, she says she “didn’t look back”.
Spending on average eight to nine months out of the year on the road – and in Covid-times, more like 11 – training and competing, leaves Laura little face-to-face time with family and friends.
“I’m born and raised in Canberra and I love it here… I just feel at home. I’m able to catch up with friends and family and just be. It’s nice, ”she says.
Describing the last couple of years as “full on”, Laura is anticipating spending a greater chunk of the year in Australia, thanks to a new training facility in Brisbane.
“Until a couple of years ago, we didn’t have a training facility in Australia. So it’s amazing they’ve now built one. We’re really lucky, and I think it’s going to be a gamechanger for the next generation, ”says Laura, with unadulterated excitement.
“Hopefully we see a lot more aerial skiers coming out of Australia. If you look at other countries, you see they’re able to start a lot younger because they can train and go to school at the same time.
“But I think Australia definitely punches above its weight in winter sports. These Olympic Games were the best outcome for Australia, so I think we’re building in a lot of sports, and having those training facilities at home will get us a lot more exposure. “
She’s ranked as the number one aerial skier on the planet, but you’d be hard pressed to find a boastful bone in Laura’s body. Her humility di lei is genuine when asked how it felt to represent Australia as a flag bearer at this year’s Winter Olympics opening ceremony.
“Of course, it was a massive honor for me. It was actually my first opening ceremony – my third Olympics but the first time I went to the opening ceremony – so starting out in style, I guess, ”she smiles.
“It was amazing. I think something special about the winter team is it’s quite a small team, so it’s really close-knit and you really do get to know almost all of your team members. So, to be able to walk out with them and to be able to represent them is really special. It’s such a great crew. “
As a child, Laura had distant dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete. She kindled her burning desire and ultimately became what she always idolized – although clearly aware of the barriers girls in sport face, ones just like her younger self di lei.
“Unfortunately, the evidence is that a lot of young women and girls drop out of sport in their teenage years, and I guess that’s for multiple different reasons. I think I’ve been fortunate with aerial skiing where there isn’t so much disparity, ”she says.
“We have the same prize money for men and women, which has been the case since I’ve been involved in the sport, which is great. Sad that it’s of note, though. So, I hope that I can inspire someone to keep going with it, and to do sport if they love to do sport. “
Her advice to young women in sport? If you love it, work hard and do it.
“I think the biggest piece of advice I would give to a young girl is to do what you love. I love what I do, and I’m very fortunate to be able to do what I do, but it’s a lot of hard work, so I think you really have to love it, ”Laura says.
“So, find something that you love, and if it’s not sport or skiing, if it’s something else, that’s okay. But just find your passion. “
Passion is a feeling Laura has found through professional sport, and her latest passion was an unexpected coincidence, resulting in the new nickname; ‘Snowgi’ – a combination of snow and yogi.
“Aerials is a pretty high impact sport, and it takes its toll on your body, so I’ve had my fair share of injuries. At one point in 2015, I had 11 months away from the sport rehabbing, and at that time I found yoga at Solution Yoga in Canberra, ”she smiles.
“I fell in love with it, and I did my yoga teaching training as well. Since finding yoga, I’ve been able to manage my body so much better. I’m one of the older athletes in the sport right now, but I feel like I’m physically in a better place than I was four years ago.
A refreshing change from the generally stoic demeanour of professional athletes, Laura’s genuine disappointment of her painful crash in the Beijing 2022 final was raw, human, and humbling.
“I mean, it’s obviously not the ending that I’d hoped for. I knew if I could have put down just a standard jump for me, didn’t necessarily have to be the best jump of my life, I would have walked away with an Olympic medal, ”she says, her voice close to a whisper.
“So yeah, that was obviously what I had hoped for which didn’t happen. I guess that’s life, and that’s sport, and it’s part of the deal. But yeah, it’s tough when you put your all into it and it doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped. “
The eve before the unfortunate crash, Laura had topped the rankings at the World Cup, and scored her personal best high score – 118 points – and knocked her competition off the slopes.
“To be able to put down your best jump in a competition… it’s a great feeling. It’s something that we had been working towards for the past few years and I knew I was capable of it, so to be able to pull it off is such a high, ”she says.
Canberra’s very own aerial skiing champion, Laura will be ‘holidaying’ at home for the next month, before it’s back to training for her next big jump. Before CW’s morning with the Olympian was over, we asked what advice she would give to her younger self.
“I’d tell my younger self to not to sweat the small stuff. One little thing would go wrong, and I’d get so caught up in it. Just to keep going and enjoy the journey and the process, ”she smiles.
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