Tropical Aussie teen gunning for glory in icy luge
Australia's Alex Ferlazzo competes during men's singles luge competition at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) 2012 in Innsbruck on January 15, 2012 - by Samuel Kubani
Teenager Alex Ferlazzo hails from the tropical Australian city in Northern Queensland where he has to practise on a hill using a luge strapped to four wheels rather than steel runners.
And how did Ferlazzo learn his luge, the fastest and most dangerous of the three Olympic sliding sports? After his mother met Australian luge recruitment manager Karen Flynn at a pilates class and was pointed in the right direction, of course.
"It's a long way from North Queensland to Russia, that's for sure. It's very exciting," said the 18-year-old.
"My mum met a retired athlete who used to do the luge through a pilates class and she got me into it.
"I went over to Lake Placid in America to give it a go and really enjoyed it and I was fairly good at it. That was three years ago now, it's been a good trip so far."
Ferlazzo's official photo on the Australian Olympic website, http://sochi2014.olympics.com.au, shows the luger lying in his racing supine state in his catsuit -- only under what looks like tropical waters, a nod indeed to his roots in Townsville, off which lies the Great Barrier Reef.
But he has proven himself internationally, and in a pre-Olympic warm-up, finished 15th at last week's Luge Junior World Championships in Igls, Austria.
"I'm stoked about my result," Ferlazzo said. "15th out of 41 in the Junior World Championship -- awesome way to end the season and start the Olympics!"
While at home, Ferlazzo practices his sport on the road down Townsville's Mt Stuart.
But he admitted street luge did not offer up the same thrill as shooting down a sheet ice track, where lugers can hit motorway-cruising speeds touching 140kph (87mph).
"On bitumen (road) you're only going 60kph and on the track you're going more than double that. It's an eye-opener for sure, but it's all fun," said Ferlazzo, who will compete on the opening two days of the Games.
"In fact, there's nowhere in the southern hemisphere you can train on an ice track, you have to go to either Europe or America.
"Every now and then, I get on my wheels (back home) to make sure my position's up to date and everything's sweet for when I'm on the ice."
Ferlazzo acknowledged that he hadn't been fazed by his first outing in a luge."It wasn't too bad because I didn't know what to expect!" he said.
"But definitely the first real wake up call was my first crash and you realise how fast you're really going.
"When it's going well it's going well, and when it's bad, it's bad."
Four years ago at the Vancouver Games, the day of the opening ceremony was blackened after Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili suffered a fatal crash during a training run.
"It's the devastating aspect of it," admitted Ferlazzo, who finished 16th at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, aged 16, and then won bronze at the Junior World Cup youth men's event in Norway in December 2012.
"I've done almost 1,000 runs on all different tracks over the last three years."I'm confident of my ability to slide on this track... I'm fully confident in the track and my abilities to keep it together."