ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Australian slider Alex Ferlazzo’s Olympic dream grew from a Pilates class and picked up speed as he propelled a four-wheeled home-made sled down a hill in the tropical heat of North Queensland.
The only Australian entered for the Sochi luge competition knew nothing about the sport when his mother struck up a conversation four years ago with a retired female athlete at a physical fitness session.
“She and the other woman got talking. She was recruiting new Australian athletes to try the sport and mum’s like ‘Oh, maybe my son would enjoy that,” the 18-year-old Townsville native told Reuters on Monday.
One obvious and immediate problem is the lack of a proper luge track to train on anywhere in the southern hemisphere, let alone Queensland, but that was not a sufficient obstacle to deter the teenager.
To get himself started, after a recruitment camp in Sydney, he built a wheeled sled and started “on the hill, just getting it down pat” until he was proficient enough to take a bigger step and think beyond Australia.
The next stop was a natural track, basically little more than a road covered with ice, in New Zealand.
“We just spent a little bit of time there just to get a feel of the ice and make sure I really did enjoy it,” he explained.
Even then, his progress from 60kph on a road to double that speed on a proper track was an expensive risk to take with no official funding.
“I didn’t know for sure that I was good at the sport until I went over to America and tried it in New York, in Lake Placid, and then I had week there in training and I didn’t hit a wall even,” he recalled.
”I had a blinder of a week, it was fantastic.
He represented Australia at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, where he finished 19th and was 15th out of 41 at the junior world championships in Igls, Austria coming into the Sochi Games.
He has competed in Europe and America over the past three years, including a week training at Sochi’s Sanki sliding center, and while he may have crashed a few times the need for speed is undimmed.
“I feel I can be really good at this...maybe in a couple of years we’re going to make it up on the podium even,” he smiled.
While ‘fairly proud’ of his wheeled sled, which he still uses to work on positioning, Ferlazzo knows he needs to acquire more knowledge of the technology if he is to get quicker on the ice and take on the established powers like Germany and Italy.
“You need to know people and put in the right amount of money and that’s even if they sell it to you,” he said of obtaining a really competitive sled.
“Even if they do sell it to you, it’s not guaranteed that it’s the good stuff. The ideal sled would be to build your own but you need to have the knowledge and I’ve only been sliding for three years.”
Editing by Ed Osmond