Janina Kuzma was the last of the New Zealand Olympic winter team to begin competition when she took to the halfpipe in Rosa Khutor on Wednesday night.
The build-up had been prolonged but for Janina the wait had meant more time to prepare herself mentally and physically.
“She was still fresh, she had plenty of energy,” explained her coach Tom Willmott.
“I decided to come into Sochi 10 days later than the team. I’m really happy I decided to do that. I’ve been really concentrating on training,” Janina agreed.
The tactic would pay off and Janina Kuzma’s Olympic debut would lead to a career best performance.
As the earlier competitions in the Sochi games had clearly underlined, freeskiing is an unpredictable sport. While exceptional skill and an arsenal of high-end tricks are integral to success, world ranking will not necessarily determine final results.
Athletes must manage a whole series of risk factors; some, like weather and snow conditions, beyond their control. On competition day it comes down to who copes with that environment the best and who then ultimately delivers the winning performance.
As a consistent finals performer and able to draw on her elite expertise and competition management from her time as a world-class Big Mountain skier, Janina was aiming for a credible top 16 performance at the Olympic Winter Games.
Janina was the 18th of 23 skiers to drop into the halfpipe for the first of two runs. Points awarded according to difficulty, variety, amplitude (height) and execution of tricks would determine whether she would be amongst the 12 top scorers who would then take a shot at finals.
With an animated start to the run Janina put down the 540 and followed up with a stylish flair. Managing to hold her speed and stability she ended on a high note with the 720. Her score of 73.80 would have her in 8th place at the end of the first run.
The second run was even better. Janina’s tricks were cleaner, faster and higher and rewarded with a score of 75.20 to hold on to 8th place and secure her spot in the finals.
Finals got underway with Janina the fifth rider to start and looking determined to get a solid score on the board.
In the words of her coach, “She just nailed it on her first finals run. It was the best run I’ve seen her do from an execution perspective.”
The judges awarded a score of 77.00 and at the end of the first round New Zealand’s Janina Kuzma was placed fourth, just two points off the bronze medal spot.
On her second run Janina appeared to battle for speed. The tricks and the grabs were there but it wasn’t the spectacular display she needed to push up in to medal contention. Her second run score was lower than the first at 74.80. Swiss rider Virginie Faivre then followed with a score of 78.00 to push Janina down to fifth.
“With my first run I really worked on my amplitude with my tricks and my grabs. For my second run I wanted to do back-to-back flairs but I just couldn’t commit to the left flair so I was super disappointed,” she later explained.
Janina would finish the Olympic final in fifth place, marking her career best finish in the halfpipe.
“I am feeling so amazing right now. To make the finals at the Olympics I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Coach Tom Willmott was “over the moon.”
“Janina is so consistent she knows how to bring her best on competition days. It’s certainly a skill she’s learnt over the years. It played into her hands tonight.”