Why Australian sport has lost a true pioneer

Alex Pullin has been remembered as an Australian pioneer for winter sports, as the sporting community mourns his death at just 32.

‘Chumpy’ Pullin drowned on the Gold Coast on Wednesday while spear fishing on an artificial reef. It is believed that he suffered a shallow water blackout while free diving, holding his breath rather than using an oxygen tank.

Pullin was a dual snowboard cross world champion and triple Olympian, who was Australia’s flag-bearer at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

Alex ‘Chumpy’ Pullin, dual world champion and triple Olympian, has died at age 32. (Getty)

“I think we should remember him that we actually saw the best out of ‘Chumpy’ as an athlete,” chief executive of the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia, Geoff Lipshut, told TODAY on Thursday.

“I think the sad part to remember is that ‘Chumpy’ never got to live the rest of his life. But as an athlete, he did it his way, he put it all out there every single day. He actually lived life to the maximum and he made the most of every minute.

“‘Chumpy’ was one of those special people that comes along once in a generation, once in a lifetime. After you met ‘Chumpy’, you actually understood that he burned just so bright and so hot.

“He was one of our great pioneers. He was the first one in his sport to win. [Olympic champion] Torah Bright was the female snowboarder pioneer and ‘Chumpy’ was definitely the man.”

Pullin was unable to win an Olympic medal but Jarryd Hughes claimed silver at the PyeongChang 2018 Games, taking the lead from ‘Chumpy’. Scotty James won bronze in the halfpipe event, having been flag-bearer for those Olympics, and has since become a dominant world champion.

“Belle Brockhoff is currently No.2 in the world. ‘Chumpy’ came first and Belle was able to follow,” Lipshut said.

“‘Chumpy’ made a whole lot possible for others and he will be really missed.”

Alex ‘Chumpy’ Pullin in action at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics. (Getty)

A constant theme in tributes to Pullin is that he was a quality person, above and beyond being a champion athlete.

“Once you met ‘Chumpy’, everyone remembered meeting him because he would look you straight in the eye, he had a really firm handshake and he really invested in meeting you. He’ll be missed by everybody,” Lipshut said.

The Australian winter sports community spent Wednesday coming to grips with its grief. Pullin’s loss has been felt immensely.

“I spoke to Lydia [Lassila] yesterday afternoon and we were both in tears. It’s just tremendously sad,” Lipshut said.

Lassila, an Olympic gold medallist at Vancouver 2010 in aerial freestyle skiing, posted this heartfelt message on Instagram after learning of Pullin’s death.

“I have no words to express the sorrow and shock of you gone too soon. The world has lost a special soul today.

“Chumpy, your love for life, your beautiful heart, your talent in everything you did will never be forgotten.

“Love you man, we will miss you… rest easy xx.

“Sending love and strength to the Pullin family and @ellidy (girlfriend Ellidy Vlug).”

Pullin’s fellow snowboarders – Hughes, James and Brockhoff – also posted emotional messages after learning of the tragedy.

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