WINTER OLYMPICS: Australian freestyle skier Scott Kneller is lucky to be alive.
He is lucky he can walk, never mind actually take to the slopes, and that is what he will be telling himself when he is standing at the top of the mountain in Sochi today.
That Kneller, a luke-warm hope for a medal in the ski cross at these Games, is here at all is a miracle of some nature.
He took a tumble just before Christmas on a training run in Italy and broke his back, had a nasty concussion and suffered a haematoma and a pneumothorax on his left lung.
"In my mind I have been given such an opportunity, I was fortunate to walk out of hospital and I think I have been given a second chance on the world stage to do my country proud," Kneller said.
"I am in much better shape than I thought I would be."
The 24-year-old had to undergo a rigorous and exhausting rehabilitation program at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.
For 12 hours a day he was put through his paces in a routine that included swimming, Pilates and magnetic therapy.
"For the first week swimming wasn't possible so I walked forwards, backwards and sideways too many times to count," he said.
"I then progressed to a splashing, thrashing movement that didn't really resemble swimming.
"The power required to pull my arm through the water created too much force on my mid-section so I just kind of floated in the water and put my arms through the motions."
Kneller only received his clearance to compete last week, but is optimistic - and he has good reason to be.
He broke his collarbone five weeks before the last Olympics in Vancouver and returned to the snow just four days before competition.
His seventh place there, a year after he first took up the sport, was a very pleasant surprise.
"I've come too far to fail now," he said.
"This whole experience has given me a new perspective on things and I'm just grateful for the opportunity to give it a go.
"I'm not thinking about what could have been if I didn't crash.
"I'm thinking about today and what I can do now.
"I have the skills and the ability to compete with the best in the world and I know that I will deliver a performance I'll be proud of."
Also hoping to give his best is Kneller's teammate, skier Anton Grimus, who is making his Olympic debut.
The 22-year-old from Mt Buller, where his parents run the popular Hotel Pension Grimus, has had a solid build-up to the games and is looking forward to the experience.
At nearly two-metres tall and with a big bushy beard, Grimus cuts an imposing figure on the snow.
"The beard is my lucky charm," he said.
"It will definitely be with me at the start."
- APN SPORTS BUREAU
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