MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia launched a year-round Winter Olympic training centre in sub-tropical Brisbane on Wednesday which it hopes will give a leading edge to its athletes ahead of the 2022 Beijing Games.
The country's top freestyle skiers put the A$6.5 million ($5 million) Geoff Henke Centre to the test on a drizzly day in the Queensland state capital, sliding down its ramps to practise tricks before plunging into a pool at the bottom.
Australian athletes have previously had to hone their skills overseas, using a water ramp facility in Utah and logging more than 3,600 days of training abroad from 2013-2017.
But the Brisbane centre, the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere, will mean they can stay close to home while avoiding logistical problems of travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"For a lot of sports, but especially for aerials, this is going to be a massive game-changer," Australian freestyle skier and aerials world champion Laura Peel said at the launch.
"We have to spend so much time on the road, nine to 10 months of the year and sacrifice a lot of things like school and university.
"Usually (you) can't start the sport until after you've finished high school ... We see young Americans, Canadians and Russians and the rest of the world out there jumping at 15 years old.
"So for us, it's going to help a lot."
Australia has a short skiing season on its southern alps and little snow compared to Winter Olympic powers in the northern hemisphere but the country has racked up 15 medals since the 1994 Games in Lillehammer.
Australia won two snowboarding medals and a freestyle skiing silver at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang.
"It's just a dream come true, really, to be able to train on home soil," said aerials world silver medallist Danielle Scott.
"This facility's great all year round ... The future of winter sports in Australia is looking pretty bright with this facility.
"I'm excited to see the generation coming up."
($1 = 1.2963 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)