WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- The strange path to Olympic glory on the aerials course often includes a start as a gymnast, then moves onto a stretch of comebacks from a series of bad knee injuries.
One other twist: being from Australia can help.
Lydia Lassila brought the third Olympic aerials medal -- and second gold -- to the land of sun and sand Wednesday night, flying pencil-straight through the dreary fog to defeat two of China's best, Li Nina and Guo Xinxin.
Lassila credits the Aussie government and its freestyle program for creating her country's success by bankrolling the training, most of which is done overseas, where there is more ice and snow than Down Under.
"The other side of that is the particular athletes who've come through this program," she said. "It takes some really special athletes willing to deal with a lot of time away from home to train and compete. It takes a driven kind of person to be willing to do that."
The 27-year-old from Melbourne, who shredded her knee for the second time during qualifying at the Turin Games, nailed a pair of jumps to not only prevent a Chinese sweep, but knock the world's other big aerials power off the top of the podium.
Lassila looked like she was stepping out of bed, not flying from 50 feet in the air, when she landed her second jump for a total of 214.74 points, a 7.5-point margin over Li, who won her second straight Olympic silver.
Like so many in her sport, Lassila began her athletic career as a gymnast, but didn't think it had to be over when she maxed out on the mat.
"I felt I was still young enough to think there's more in me as an athlete," she said. "I started aerials, and I fell in love with it right away. I think it was my competitive drive that got me here."
Australia's emergence as an Olympic power started in 2002, when Alisa Camplin pulled off an upset victory. At the bottom of the mountain that day, covered in snow, she admitted she fell on the way down because, well, she wasn't all that accomplished a skier.
No big deal.
Aerials is essentially gymnastics on snow, and any top jumper does a good bit of training by landing in water, which is as native to Australia as knee injuries are to aerials.
"Every girl that blows out a knee in this sport is by themselves in a very lonely place trying to decide whether it's worth the effort," said Camplin, who also won bronze in 2006. "The knee just struggles on and on for years. This is when you've got to come from the absolute bottom to the absolute top, and Lydia worked her way every single day with gritted teeth."
Lassila has embraced the reality in women's aerials -- that only those willing to try three flips will stay at the top, which is one reason she beat Li, who had four twists, but only two flips in her biggest jump.
"I wasn't really training to do triple flips," Li said. "This is why I wasn't able to perform as well as the gold medalist."
Returning to the Olympics for the fifth time was 37-year-old Aussie Jacqui Cooper, who might be the most accomplished aerialist ever, but finished fifth -- and left still without an Olympic medal.
American Emily Cook fell on her first jump, ruining a chance to write a perfect closing chapter to a career filled with injuries, comebacks and great attitude. She finished 11th.
Her teammate, 16-year-old Ashley Caldwell, landed both her jumps, though they were nowhere near as difficult as those of the leaders. But this was a learning experience for Caldwell, who came out of America's Elite Air Program, which was designed, in part, to combat China's rapid rise in this sport.
Li and Guo won the fourth and fifth Olympic aerials medals for China, which invested in aerials when it saw a sport with multiple medal opportunities and many good chances to resurrect careers of the hundreds of high-level gymnasts who couldn't take the final step in that sport.
"Australia's program is definitely different than North America's. Hopefully it will open some pockets, and people will start doing the right thing in North America," said Dustin Wilson, the Canadian coach hired by China to lead its program. "The U.S. has got a great program, and in another four years they should have a good chance."
But, he said, with the talent China has coming, everyone will have their work cut out for them.
After her winning jump, Lassila only had to wait out one more competitor. That was Xu Mengtao, the Chinese teenager who led after the first round and is expected to be the future of the sport in her country.
Maybe she will be. But with the pressure of the last jump on her, she landed badly, did a 180-degree spin and went skidding down the hill backward for a second. That meant it would be Australia, not China, on the top of the medal stand.
Lassila said she had a good feeling, standing atop fog-enshrouded Cypress Mountain at the beginning of the night. She noticed an eerie similarity to the best training site in Australia. It's the Chamois run at Mount Buller, where winters are often as wet as they are snowy -- and the next Olympic gold medalist could be lurking on any lift.
"We saw the fog, and we got all cheery," Lassila said. "We said, 'Just like home, this is fine.' And we knew we could handle it."
Steve Holcomb and his 'Night Train' crew -- Justin Olsen, Curt Tomasevicz and Steve Mesler -- raced to Olympic gold on Day 15 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games for the first U.S. four-man title since 1948.
South Korea's Kim Yu-Na wins the ladies' figure skating gold medal; watch the full routine and interview.
Photo highlights from Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse's women's bobsled gold-medal victory on Feb. 24, Day 13 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.