Australian aerial skier Harrison Tullberg is chasing his Olympic dream.
Australian aerial skier Harrison Tullberg is chasing his Olympic dream.

Law student Harrison Tullberg's huge leap of faith

GREAT Britain had Eddie the Eagle, now Australia has Harry the Flying Kangaroo.

Most of us know the story of Michael "Eddie the Eagle” Edwards, the British jumper who captured the attention of the world with his courageous ski jumps at the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Edwards may not have won any medals, but he did beat the establishment.

"It was really cool to see Eddie surpass the expectations of the English Olympic committee, even after changing his Olympic qualifying scores to what they thought wasn't doable,” Harrison "Harry” Tullberg says.

"It's the best thing to see the underdog come out on top, even if they didn't necessarily win the competition.”

Almost three decades later, Tullberg is chasing his own Olympic dream - only unlike Britain's "Eagle”, the 20-year-old Victorian law student has the technical skills and aerial athleticism to seriously challenge for a medal.

Tullberg is a young gun with his head in the clouds - and his arms, legs and torso too.

The high-flying "Legal Eagle” is on a history-making mission to become Australia's second male aerial skier to hit the podium at a Winter Games, and only the third to represent Australia in the event. His teammate, David Morris, won a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Tullberg, who grew up flipping and spinning on a trampoline in the Tullberg family's backyard in Victoria, is well on his way to reaching some dizzying heights in the difficult snow sport.

After just one season of training on the Utah snowfields in the United States, he has been accepted as a member of the Flying Kangaroos.

He made his big-time debut at this month's Europa Cup meet in Ruka, Finland, and performed magnificently.

His very first aerial manoeuvre scored a near-perfect 9.8 from one judge - the highest raw score given to any of his vastly more experienced 35 competitors - a stunning result considering the immense pressure he would have been under.

"Competing in the Europa Cup gave me a small taste of the competition life in aerials,” Tullberg explains.

"You're super restricted with time. You have to be prepared to do barely any jumps in pre-competition warm-up and be expected to complete your jumps to the best of your ability when it counts.

"It's a daunting concept but it's kind of great because it teaches you to be confident in your ability and what you've put in.

"It just makes me hungrier to do and try harder tricks and bring them to snow.”

Tullberg and Morris, also from Victoria, and Lydia Lassila, Australia's second gold medallist in the sport (Alisa Camplin won in 2002), are among members of the current squad in training.

You don't get selected as a Flying Kangaroo on ability alone - although in Tullberg's case he appears to have it in spades.

It's also about who you are as a person: your character, desire, discipline, attitude, commitment, passion, heart; all those intangibles required to compete and become an elite athlete.

And he is setting his sights higher and higher - literally.

"We have three different jumps and ski in at different speeds and reach different vertical levels of height,” he says.

"I'm currently on the smallest jump (the single) in preparation for the double and of course the triple. I currently ski in at 40-42kmh and get about 6m of height.

"To compete at the Olympics though, I'll need to be hitting the triple, which will require me to ski in at up to 60kmh and more to reach a height of about 15m.”

Tullberg's journey started many years ago when, as a budding young gymnast, he bounced and tumbled his way to an Australian trampoline title before finally representing his country.

When he was in Year 6 he suffered a sickening fall off the trampoline, badly dislocating his elbow.

He underwent five surgeries and eight months of rehab. At one stage he lost feeling in the fingers on his left hand.

But he was not to be discouraged and even back then displayed the fighting qualities and character he will need to achieve his lifelong Olympic dream.

Somewhere along the way, Tullberg developed an almost insatiable hunger for aerial skiing - a sport in which Australia is hardly regarded as a world-beater for obvious reasons.

His mother, Julie, a qualified sports scientist, coach, accomplished academic and journalist, helps explain why her son is so driven by extreme challenges.

Tullberg's dad, Darren, was a successful Australian marathon swimmer.

His grandparents are industry leaders in their respective fields of medicine and swimming, so all the genes lined up when he was born.

"Harrison was assessed as a gifted child when he was just five,” Julie explains. "And he is a massive high achiever.

"He needs his sport to express himself physically, otherwise he becomes off balance.

"So he loves massive challenges. He needs highly stimulating experiences otherwise he gets bored - so this sport is perfect for him.”

But if you think intense training several hours a day to master the intricacies of a sport where the slightest miscalculation can have catastrophic consequences is taxing - try doing it while studying law.

As a member of Deakin University's elite athlete program, Tullberg is fortunate - or crazy enough, whichever way you look at it - to combine his law studies and skiing wherever he may be in the world.

So while he trains in Finland or anywhere else in the world, he could also be writing a 3000-word essay and preparing for his law exams.

"I'm studying law and am enjoying it way more than I thought I would,” he says. "I'd really like to work in a law firm one day when I'm done with sport.”

Until then, the sky's the limit when it comes to his sport.

"Winning a gold medal in an Olympic Games is something I've thought about heaps throughout my life,” he says.

"It'd no doubt be one of the best feelings to know that you are the best at what you do and no one can take that from you.”

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