Women’s freeski halfpipe gets underway at the PyeongChang 2018 Games on Monday 19th February and we will see two New Zealand competitors in action. Janina Kuzma is returning for her second Olympic Games after a fifth place finish in Sochi in 2014.
Her team mate, Britt Hawes, remembers watching her compete on the Olympic stage from back in New Zealand and thinking, “I want to do that.” Four years later the 27-year-old ski coach is at the Games competing alongside the woman who inspired her to make a bid for Olympic qualification.
“I’m really happy to be here and be with the team,” she says.
Britt was named to the team in the final round of selections in January and describes her road to PyeongChang 2018 as “pretty manic. I had to keep training and competing all the way up until ten days before we flew.”
The full weight of her achievement in being selected to the New Zealand Olympic Winter Games Team hit home on Opening Ceremony night.
“It was insane. You think you know what it’s going to be like to walk out in front of all those people but it’s crazy. They’re all yelling and screaming, it was awesome.”
And now it’s down to business.
Competition takes place in a 150m long, 6.7m high icy ‘stunt ditch’ with competitors looking to boost up and out above the lip of the pipe to perform their tricks. Progression, amplitude, trick variety, execution and difficulty will be what the judges are looking for.
There’s little room for nerves and no room for error when it comes to performing well in this sport.
And it’s a sport New Zealanders are drawn to – we will also have four athletes competing in men’s halfpipe. What’s the attraction?
“The freeski culture in New Zealand is huge,” says Janina. “We have some of the best halfpipes and slopestyle courses in the world. That’s why we have Winter Games down in New Zealand, and events like The North Face Freeski Open. They’ve been really progressive for the sport and I think that’s why we have such a strong team.”
Like many of New Zealand’s elite ‘park and pipe’ athletes Janina and Britt are based out of Wanaka and as Britt says, “In the Queenstown Lakes area, skiing is as common as playing rugby is in other places.”
Janina adds: “Even the schools take a day off a week to go skiing. It’s pretty cool.”
So, teachers of New Zealand, how about bringing the PyeongChang 2018 Games to the classroom for the next week or so? You may well be inspiring the next generation of Winter Olympians.