SYDNEY, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- Townsville in Australia's tropical far north is an unlikely place to produce an elite competitor in the adrenaline-charged winter sport of luge.
Yet it was in that sun-soaked Queensland city that 26-year-old Alexander Ferlazzo kicked off a pursuit that will soon land him back in Beijing for his third title at Winter Olympics glory.
"It's awesome representing the country in front of all my friends and family and the rest of the world. The Olympic Games is the pinnacle of the career," Ferlazzo told Xinhua.
His long and winding journey began more than a decade ago when his mum's friend suggested he might want to try a sport that involves sliding on a tiny sled down an icy track at speeds of more than 140km/h.
His curiosity thoroughly piqued, Ferlazzo soon joined a group of novice lugers, or sliders as they are often called, in New Zealand. There they were introduced to the fundamentals of the sport.
The concept of luging is simple but the art of doing it well calls for great strength and exquisite timing. Sliders begin a race by pushing hard against two handles on each side of the narrow track, then they lie on their backs as they hurtle feet first down the steep incline, complete with twists and turns, relying on hair-trigger reflexes to get them safely across the finish line.
"I loved luging straight away. It was so much fun. The way it forces you to focus your attention is an absolute thrill."
Back in his hometown, the determined teen continued to hone his skills by cobbling together a four-wheeled sled to hurtle down the neighboring hilly streets.
Ferlazzo's unconventional training regimen set him on a fast learning curve. In 2012 he competed at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. He won the gold medal in the Luge Junior World Cup in Canada in 2014 and in the same year competed in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Ferlazzo returned to the Olympic arena in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018, where he put in one of the best ever performances by an Australian competitor in a sport long dominated by European powerhouses such as Germany, Austria and Latvia.
And now he is gearing up to return to the Yanqing National Sliding Centre to test his mettle against the world's best at the Beijing Winter Olympics in early February.
The track is actually familiar territory for Ferlazzo, having had about 30 runs there in November during the first World Cup races of the 2021-22 season.
"The Beijing track is an interesting one. It's quite different. It's very long, all the corners are open," he said, adding that sliders on that track feel less g-force on their descents, so instead of relying on the pressure on the way down, they depend more on steering points.
"I like the track. It's a lot of fun. It's got some very technical points and I think it will make for some interesting viewing come the Olympics."
Like much of the world, Ferlazzo has had to overcome the difficulties brought on by the COVID pandemic, especially given that the international luge circuit requires a lot of overseas traveling.
"COVID stopped me from heading overseas last season, so I missed an entire year of sliding. It's quite a dramatic change in luge where experiences are so important," he said.
On the plus side, he said the downtime had mental and physical benefits as he was able to reassess life priorities while his body healed from "niggling" scrapes and bruises that inevitably come from the fast-paced sport.
"I think the time off gave me a clean slate to restart my sliding. Then when I jumped back on a sled it felt so natural ... it was like riding a bike again."
Preparing for the Beijing Games, Ferlazzo is focusing exclusively on the competition and blocking out all the noise and distractions of the outside world.
"The boycott is a talking point among the athletes ... but we're all here to just compete against the best and hone our skills," he said.
"We've put too much into this. We'll just get to the Olympics and compete to the best of our ability." Enditem