High-flyer: David Morris, 33, aerial skier
If a jump goes well, it feels like floating. If you hit a good takeoff, it’s really floaty and very easy and you get a nice view of the ground, and just float into the landing. If you miss your takeoff or mess it up, it feels like you’re falling out of the sky very, very quickly. The ground comes at you very fast.
This will be my third Games. One Olympic medal, one World Championships medal, a couple of World Cup medals, and I’m the only boy on the [aerials] team. I automatically have the Australian record, which is pretty cool, because I don’t have to do anything to get it.
It can be challenging at times. It’s great – it’s hilarious. We’re a good team, a tight-knit team. But lacking another male to bounce and be boyish with can be a little sad sometimes.
In the beginning, I was a gymnast and a skier. Kirstie Marshall, who’s a former Olympian and member of the Australian aerial ski team, came into my gym and saw me tumbling around and asked if I’d like to try aerials. She offered to train me for free, just off her own generosity, on the weekends.
The whole thing was in that moment: the right person at the right time. If I hadn’t been there or she hadn’t been there, or I hadn’t been tumbling, I wouldn’t be here at all.
I accept that every day, maybe this jump will be my last jump. Because I might get hurt, or this will be the end of the season if something goes wrong. It is about precision and calculated risk, and performing well under pressure, doing neat jumps. You don’t just throw your body off and hope for the best. (Although it does look like that sometimes.)
We train jumping into water. It’s definitely mentally easier, because the consequences of failing aren’t as dramatic. But landing in the water takes it out of your body more than snow does. If you land on your feet, you come to a stop very, very quickly in the water. Whereas on snow you actually continue your momentum down the hill. Obviously, if you land on your back you know about it.
The first triple was really, really scary. It continues to be really, really scary every single day I’m out there, even now after years of doing it. It just doesn’t get any easier.
We’re going very high in the air. We’re going upside down three times. It’s more than any other sport. And it’s just not … it’s just … you’re up at the top and my brain just sort of questions like, “Why am I doing this?”, every single time. And then, when I land a nice jump it’s like, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad, actually.”
Everyone’s nervous. People pretend they’re not, but that’s obviously a lie. But it’s just something that everyone’s scared of, and whether you admit it or not is up to you. I’m fine admitting that it’s scary because it clearly is. I think anyone who isn’t a little bit scared of what they’re doing either has no idea what they’re about to do, or they possibly have a concussion.
We crash very frequently. More than people would imagine we do. Yesterday I did six triples and I landed one of them. I crashed five out of six. And it hurts, but if you’re strong you can take hits and get back up like it’s nothing.
After an injury, it is in the back of your mind: “This could happen again.” But if you approach the sport tentatively, that’s when you really do get injured. Coming into a jump and doing it properly is the safest way to do it, even though it is against everything that your mind’s telling you – “Don’t lean back”, “I don’t really want to flip this fast.” People being careful upon coming back from an injury, it tends to cause secondary injuries.
Other athletes think our sport’s the craziest by far. I’ve had arguments – I don’t think it is. There are other sports that are way more sketchy. I think that mogul skiing is extremely difficult. We just do basically one jump at a time onto a nice, soft landing hill, at a set speed, or calculated. Moguls go down a mogul course as fast as they can and do two jumps within their mogul course at breakneck speed, holding onto the edge of control.
Alpine skiing is mental. Skeleton and luge, those are mental. But I think ours is, visually, probably the most impressive. Borderline, you know.
I’m a PE/maths teacher, which is a pretty cool combination. When I have time, I’ll go back to my old school at Whitefriars in Victoria and do a bit of substitute teaching. They’ll ask me to show them videos, so I have to say, “We’re actually going to do work today, fellows. You’re going to work.”
It’s a bit of a dual personality. People do have a hard time sort of switching from one to the other. Because when I’m a teacher I’m Mr Morris the school-teacher, and I think the kids find that a little bit hard to relate to because they think I’m the athlete always.
This week’s highlights…
• Winter Olympics: PyeongChang 2018
Until February 25, Pyeongchang, South Korea
• Tennis: Fed Cup – Australia v Ukraine
Saturday and Sunday, 11am (AEDT), Canberra Tennis Centre
• Horseracing: C. F. Orr Stakes Family Day
Saturday, 1st race 12.30pm (AEDT), Caulfield Racecourse, Melbourne
• AFLW: Fremantle v Collingwood
Saturday, 4.10pm (AWST), Optus Stadium, Perth
• Cricket: T20 International – Australia v England
Saturday, 7.20pm (AEDT), Melbourne Cricket Ground
• Soccer: W-League semi-final – Brisbane Roar v Melbourne City
Sunday, 3pm (AEST), Perry Park, Brisbane
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 10, 2018 as "High-flyer". Subscribe here.