The eagerly anticipated men’s freeski slopestyle took place in Sochi tonight with New Zealand’s Jossi Wells making no secret of the fact that he would be gunning for an Olympic medal.Freeski slopestyle is a new Olympic sport and tonight the world’s best freeskiers were to battle hard to earn the sport’s first Olympic podiums.Despite having only recently returned to competition due to injury, Jossi Wells was ready to get to work.
He would draw on his years of experience in the sport and the signature style that has delivered multiple podiums at premiere events.Eyes would also be on the up and coming talent of younger brother Beau-James Wells. At just 18 years of age, Beau-James lacks his brother’s years of experience but with some high-end tricks in the bag he was hopeful of finishing in the top half of the field as a good step towards Pyeongchang in 2018. The challenge, as always in the sport of freeskiing, would be to land those tricks.
32 riders would have two runs to execute their most technical and skilful of manoeuvres on the challenging course at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Only the top 12 riders would make it through to the finals and the judges had made it clear that a less than perfect run would lead to a significantly reduced score.With the continuing warm weather conditions in Sochi the snow remained soft.
The jumps loomed large but the Wells brothers simply declared the course a home away from home and no more daunting than any other course they had faced previously. If anything, the size of the jumps would allow for greater amplitude, giving riders more time in the air to pull out the big moves.The first run was a nervous affair with some of the sport’s best skiers coming to grief, amongst them world numbers one and three Nick Goepper and Bobby Brown.
Jossi was the 15th rider to drop. Looking composed from the start he landed a good clean run, throwing in a 1080 and scoring 82.80. By the end of the first run he would be sitting in sixth place.Beau-James, further back in the 27th start position, came out charging on his first run but an over rotation on landing the second jump left him on one ski, out of speed and unable to hit the final jump. His score was 36.00 placing him 22nd at the end of the first run.
With several medal hopefuls yet to prove themselves on the Olympic course the pressure would be just as intense for the second run. Jossi would look to improve his score to keep himself in contention for the finals.83.40 on the second run was enough to do the job and with another solid performance in hand Jossi was through to the finals in 10th place.Beau-James Wells was able to clean up his second run, landing a double 10, a brand new trick, and pushing his score to 66.60.
He was out of contention for finals but still pleased to have landed a complete run.“I was definitely a little bit nervous but I knew I had my run pretty well in training so I knew I kind of had it under control. I was really happy to land it.”
Finishing 22nd in the qualifying rounds, Beau-James said that he now has his sights set on qualifying for the 2018 games.Speaking after the event, coach and father Bruce Wells explained, “I was really pleased with Beau. His rail game was probably one of the best on the day up there, it was really quite inventive and he executed it really, really well.“He landed a brand new trick yesterday, the double 10. To have that in the tool box is really important so moving forward over the next four years into the next Olympic cycle I think he’s got the tools now to get invites into the major events. I’m really hopeful for him; he’s on a bit of an upward curve as far as his skiing goes.”
Moving along to finals, Jossi was the third rider to start. The first run didn’t begin well, with the ‘pretzel’ manoeuvre on the down rail (spin on one way, spin on the rail a different way and then spin off) not going to plan.“His run was pretty much done and dusted by that point,” explained coach Bruce Wells after the competition. Jossi was unable to put down the high level tricks he had planned for the final features and was awarded a score of 60.60 leaving him in ninth at the end of the first round.With Joss Christiensen sitting top of the leaderboard with 95.80 and Nick Goepper second with 92.40
Jossi would need to pull out something truly sensational to reach the podium.Things never really got going for Jossi on the second run. Catching a ski on the rail section he was wrong footed and from there on it was straight airs down the rest of the course and a second run score of 50.00 putting him in 11th place overall. The Olympic medal was not to be.Taking a philosophical approach to the day coach Bruce Wells commented,
“It’s one job to get in to the finals and once you’re there you’re out to win. You want to step up the whole game.
“It was going to be first place or 12th place and it certainly wasn’t first today.”Describing the final field as “one of the strongest of all time”, head Park & Pipe Coach Tom Willmott said “any of the 12 finalists was capable of winning the event and nobody was holding back.”
Explaining Jossi’s decision to throw down straight airs for the rest of the course Willmott said it was all or nothing and a decision most top freeskiers would make in the risky sport.“Jossi was going for all out for the win today. He had it in him, and nothing short of perfection was required. When he sketched on the first rail, unfortunately it was all over. Jossi’s approach to getting down the mountain after that was the approach most top level freeskiers would take.Like a ski-racer missing a gate, once a rider has missed a key trick and won’t get the points they need, the game is over. They then have to get themselves down the mountain in once piece.”
A down spirited Jossi Wells commented, “I came out here to land myself on the podium so I put it all on the line and sometimes you fall off, today wasn’t my day.”
“Making it through to finals was definitely a good feeling; the level of the riding was really high. I landed a couple of the best runs I’ve done in slopestyle to get there. Unfortunately I didn’t pull through in finals and messed up both runs which was definitely very disappointing.”
“It was such an amazing feeling being at the top at the finals knowing that the whole country was rooting for me, having them supporting me, I’ve never really had that feeling before.”
Jossi and Beau-James now turn their attention to the halfpipe where they will be joined in competition by Byron Wells and Lyndon Sheehan. Janina Kuzma will compete in the ladies’ halfpipe.
In competition tomorrow New Zealand will see Katharine Eustace move on to day two of women's skeleton and Ben Sandford will embark on the first day of his two day schedule.