“I think representation is important. As they say, you cannot be what you cannot see. I’m really proud to be a woman and to be on the world stage with the Australian flag,” smiled 32-year-old Laura Peel, Winter Olympian and world champion air skier in Canberra.
Just 15 hours after landing back on Australian soil, Laura was jet lagged, but she was happy to be back home in Canberra. She took the morning to catch up Canberra Weekly to talk about all things Olympics, female representation in sports and falling in love with yoga.
A young Laura Peel would have been found doing gymnastics or trying to keep up with her older brothers on the ski slopes. She says her family loves the slopes, and when we spoke, her mother was skiing at the Indoor Snow Sports in Fyshwick.
After her gymnastics career was over, she went to college thinking her days as an athlete were over. But when she was 19, Laura realized she wasn’t ready to quit and contacted the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia, who had approached her during her gymnastics days. From that day on, she says “don’t look back”.
By being on the road for an average of eight to nine months a year – and in Covid times, more like 11 – training and competing, Laura leaves little personal time with family and friends.
“I was born and raised in Canberra and I love it here…I just feel at home. I can catch up with friends and family and just be. It’s fun,” she says.
Laura describes the past few years as “full”, expecting to spend more of the year in Australia, thanks to a new training facility in Brisbane.
“Until a few years ago we didn’t have a training facility in Australia. So it’s amazing that they’ve built one now. We’ve been really lucky and I think it’s going to be a game changer for the next generation,” says Laura with unadulterated excitement.
“Hopefully we’ll see a lot more sky skiers coming from Australia. If you look at other countries, you can see that they can start much younger because they can train and go to school at the same time.
“But I think Australia is definitely above its weight in winter sports. These Olympics were the best result for Australia, so I think we’re building a lot of sports, and having those training facilities at home will give us a lot more exposure.”
She’s ranked as the number one sky skier in the world, but it would be hard to find a boastful bone in Laura’s body. Her humility is genuine when asked how it felt to represent Australia as the flag bearer at the opening ceremony of this year’s Winter Olympics.
“Of course it was a huge honor for me. It was actually my first opening ceremony – my third Olympics but the first time I went to the opening ceremony – so I think I’ll start in style,” she laughs.
“It was great. I think something special about the winter team is that it’s a pretty small team, so it’s very close and you really get to know almost all of your team members. So to be able to walk out with them and be allowed to representing is very special. It’s such a great crew.”
As a child, Laura had distant dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete. She fueled her burning desire and eventually became what she always idolized – although she was clearly aware of the barriers girls face in sports, as was her younger self.
“Unfortunately, there is evidence that many young women and girls stop exercising in their teens, and I think that’s for several reasons. I think I’ve been lucky with sky skiing where there isn’t that much inequality,” she says.
“We have the same prize money for men and women, which has been the case since I got involved in the sport, which is great. Too bad it stands out. So I hope I can inspire someone to keep going, and get into exercise if they like exercise.”
Her advice to young women in sports? If you like it, work hard and do it.
“I think the biggest advice I would give a young girl is to do what you love. I love what I do, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do what I do, but it’s very hard work , so I think you have to really love it,” says Laura.
“So find something you love, and if it’s not sports or skiing, if it’s something else, that’s okay. But just find your passion.”
Passion is a feeling Laura has found through professional sports, and her last passion was an unexpected coincidence, resulting in the new nickname; ‘Snowgi’ – a combination of snow and yogi.
“Aerials is a pretty impactful sport and it takes its toll on your body, so I’ve had quite a few injuries. At one point in 2015, I was away from sports rehabilitation for 11 months, at which point I found yoga at Solution Yoga in Canberra,” she laughs.
“I fell in love with it, and I also did my yoga teacher training. Since I found yoga, I can manage my body so much better. I’m one of the older athletes in the sport right now, but I feel like I’m in a better place physically than I was four years ago.
A refreshing change from the generally stoic attitude of professional athletes, Laura’s heartfelt disappointment at her painful crash in the Beijing 2022 final was raw, human and humble.
“I mean, it’s clearly not the ending I was hoping for. I knew if I could have just done a standard jump in front of me, not necessarily the best jump of my life, I would have walked away with an Olympic medal,” she says, her voice almost whispering.
“So yes, of course that was what I had hoped for, but it didn’t happen. I think that’s life, and that’s sports, and it’s part of the deal. But yeah, it’s hard when you give everything and it doesn’t go the way you hoped.”
The eve before the unfortunate crash, Laura topped the World Cup rankings, scoring her personal best – 118 points – knocking her competition off the slopes.
“Being able to do your best jump in a competition… it’s a great feeling. It’s something we’ve been working towards for the past few years and I knew I could do it, so it’s so high to get it done,” she says.
Canberra’s very own ski champion in the skies, Laura will be ‘on holiday’ at home for the next month, before returning to training for her next big jump. Before CWs morning with the Olympian was over, we asked what advice she would give her younger self.
“I would tell my younger self not to worry about the little things. One little thing would go wrong, and I would get so caught up in it. Just to keep going and enjoy the journey and the process,” she laughs.
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