Laura Peel in action. Photo: Getty Images
Canberra's Winter Olympic rookie Laura Peel is a snow clone.
Five-time Olympian and five-time world champion Jacqui Cooper laughs at the similarities, recalling the story of the teenage girl she hand-picked and dubbed her ''stunt double''.
It's not the cackling laugh of a mad scientist, but Cooper is well aware that Australian aerial skiing's next project in alchemy is potentially about to yield more results - selecting novices with raw, acrobatic ability and turning that into Olympic gold.
Laura Peel. Photo: act\chris.wilson
Since Alisa Camplin's breakthrough gold in 2002, Australia's female aerial skiers have won medals at three consecutive Winter Olympics, crowned by Lydia Lassila's victory at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
But in 2007, three years before she retired after almost two decades in the sport, Cooper had already been asked by the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia to find and shape her successors.
Sifting through a wad of questionnaires and scouting notes from gymnastics clubs across the country, Cooper paused at a Canberra schoolgirl's application.
Laura Peel in action. Photo: Getty Images
''We normally recruit girls who are quite small, they're ex-gymnasts, tiny, maybe 160cm tall. I'm 174cm and Laura is 175cm. I was like, 'That's perfect.' I was even trying to find someone that could wear my uniform,'' Cooper said, laughing.
''I put together a list of things I thought would be key in recruiting an athlete that would bring results. Talent is one thing, these girls are all acrobatic geniuses. You can teach people to flip and twist, but the things that stand out are passion, dedication and drive.
''You could just see it from Laura's answers on paper that she had the drive to do something. She was a gymnast and she'd broken her foot, her fingers, her arm, and she'd just kept going.''
Jacqui Cooper. Photo: Simon Schluter
For Cooper, who broke her back in 2001 and had knee, elbow, shoulder and hip reconstructions during an unprecedented career of 24 World Cup wins, Peel was a stand-out winner.
Nicknamed the ''Real Deal'', Peel, 24, is regarded as an Olympic medal threat in Sochi, Russia, in February. She is a World Cup winner and in February she won silver at the Olympic test event.
On skis, coaches and mentors speak of her fearlessness, needed to launch up to 20m above ground in a dizzying contortion of acrobatics.
Lydia Lassila. Photo: Justin McManus
Off skis, her quiet persona is better summed up by the childhood ambition she lists on her sporting profile: to become a princess.
Australia's coach Cord Spero admitted he had been surprised by her progression since taking up the sport in 2008 and was shocked when he first heard her speak, her voice softer than snowflakes.
''She's very closed and quiet,'' Spero said. ''That was something we were not sure about at first, how it would effect competition. But that's her personality-type, as a competitor it's game on.
Alisa Camplin. Photo: Reuters
''She's come on like a light, you can see that in her results.''
Australia's success in aerial skiing seems puzzling. It's a nomadic life, 10 months a year spent overseas training and competing. Peel, who misses a good Aussie barbecue most, hasn't skiied on Australian snow since 2009.
But it's talent identification and mentoring, Cooper points out, that continues to maintain Australia's success. At the same time she identified Peel, she also chose Danielle Scott, of Sydney, and Samantha Wells, of Newcastle. All three will compete at Sochi, along with defending gold medallist Lassila.
''Champions breed champions,'' Cooper said. ''Kirstie [Marshall also an ex-gymnast] started it off, then there was me, then Alisa and Lydia. There's always been a champion, for Australian women they've always had someone to look up to. We've been at the forefront for change in aerial skiing. We've had other teams - like the Chinese - copy what we do.
''Anything can happen at the Olympic Games, but Australia could potentially get two of the three medals.''
''It's like who's next to carry that torch. If Lydia does anything like she did in Vancouver she'll win a medal, but I'd like to think one of my girls can get up there too.''
Cooper holds a special place for Peel. At Cooper's final Olympics, in 2010, Peel was on the shadow squad.
''My body wasn't holding up, so I'd say to Laura, 'Cmon, you're my stunt double, get up there and do it for me,''' Cooper said.
''When I retired I gave her all the training equipment I used for my height. When Laura comes to my house she basically goes shopping in the garage for equipment because I have boxes of stuff from 20 years of competing.
''She's like a rare diamond. She's fantastic acrobatically, but she's just a lovely person, she's so hard-working and that's the key.''
Peel grew up in Canberra, skiing every winter weekend with her family at Perisher, with the Canberra Alpine Club.
But skill on the slopes was only a ''bonus'', not a prerequisite, in the selection of Australia's next generation of aerial skiers.
After turning down the initial advance from aerial skiing, Peel took up the opportunity in 2008 and was training in Utah, in the States, the following month.
''She was certainly able to jump a few steps because she was so clever on her skis,'' Copper said, ''but that was just a bonus.
''Loving it is half the battle because the sport is quite brutal and cruel. She's already seen the nasty side of it with quite a few injuries and she's still in love with it, she's got the bug.''
Peel had a shoulder reconstruction after a fall in May last year, and is only five months back from an ankle reconstruction, too.
''It's a calculated risk,'' Peel, a former student of Merici and Narrabundah colleges, said.
''Having those great role models like Jacqui and Lydia from the start was the most helpful thing; right from the beginning you were able to see what it took to be a champion and whether you were willing to do that. Our program has had a lot of medals, so it's nice to know you're on the right track. I don't think that puts extra pressure on us … but we've got a super strong team.''
Cooper said Peel would only continue to get better.
''I won a lot of my World Cups and world titles at the end of my career … Laura could be in the sport for a very long time, she's only young. I see her potentially going to three Olympics if she wanted to, maybe even four.''
Peel also has a long-term view.
''No matter what happens at these Olympics, I won't be done. There's still plenty left in the tank and I'm looking forward to 2018.''