SAUZE d'OULX, Italy — She's a daredevil by nature, catapulting herself 50 feet into the air and hoping for the best on the snowy, steep and always fickle landing hill. So, Evelyne Leu figured, why not take one more chance?
The Swiss star did just that, throwing a trick she rarely tries. She stuck the landing too. That's how she became an Olympic gold medalist Wednesday, the latest champion in the all-or-nothing sport of women's aerials.
"My coach kept pushing me to do it. He said, 'You can do it, you should do it,' " Leu said. "I was fifth after the first jump, so I figured I'd try it and go for a medal. This time, it worked out pretty well."
Leu's decision to try a triple somersault with three twists -- the hardest jump on the program -- may have accounted for the 5.16 points that separated her from silver medalist Li Nina of China.
Struggling with lingering back injuries, Li watered down her second jump. She landed it, but without the difficulty rating that Leu received, it wasn't enough.
"That jump is very hard for me to do anyway," Li said through an interpreter. "With the pain I had in my back, I just didn't think I could do it."
No Americans were in the 12-woman finals, the result of poor qualifying performances by Emily Cook and Jana Lindsey.
Finishing third was Australian Alisa Camplin, the defending Olympic champion who walked away with a bronze medal that felt to her like a gold.
"The best third I've ever had," Camplin said.
Camplin's teammate, Jacqui Cooper, was the sentimental favorite. At 33 and having suffered injuries that cut short her previous Olympic trips, Cooper was simply happy to be here. In qualifying, things changed when she set the world record with a score of 213.36. But with medals on the line, she fell on her landings and finished eighth -- a disappointing finish to what still goes down as a tremendous comeback.
"It's been up and down, up and down -- quite a roller coaster," Cooper said. "But we ended up with a medal for the team and that's important."
For gold-medal winner Leu, it was a chance to show what she took away from the 2002 Games, when she set a world record in qualifying, then flopped big-time in the finals and finished 11th.
"I learned that it's not finished after qualifying, that you have to keep going until the last jump," the 29-year-old said.
On the landing of this last jump, Leu jammed her skis firmly in the snow and raised her fists as she motored down the hill. Then she waited for Camplin and three jumpers from China to go.
None could pass her, and Leu had her championship.
MEDAL WINNERSFREESTYLE SKIING, WOMEN'S AERIALS
* Evelyne Leu, Switzerland
* Li Nina, China
* Alisa Camplin, Australia