Published Monday 20 January 2014

New Zealand’s winter Olympic hopefuls have posted strong results at the final qualifying events ahead of the Sochi Games which commence on 7 February.

The weekend’s results have helped to secure critical nation spots as well as solidify athletes’ individual rankings.

Freeskier Jossi Wells and snowboarder Christy Prior were the top performers, both winning gold medals at their respective world cups in Switzerland and Canada.

New Zealand Winter Performance Programme Director Ashley Light says the weekend’s results are important for the team as they focus on building momentum and managing pressure ahead of the Olympic Games.

Freeski

Jossi Wells was tasked with earning New Zealand a second quota spot in the slopestyle discipline by laying down a well-ranked performance in Gstaad, Switerland. Pushing through his ongoing heel injury, Jossi placed second in the qualifying rounds, thus securing the coveted nation spot. With the pressure off, he then went on to land the gold-medal winning run in finals.

“Qualifying through to finals ensured that we had the spot so that pressure was gone, today it was pretty much, come out blazing and try and win it,” commented Jossi.

“I came out here to get a quota spot for slopestyle for Sochi, walking away with a win is an extra bonus.”

Snowboard

The FIS Snowboard World Cup in Stoneham, Canada saw New Zealand athletes compete in both the halfpipe and slopestyle disciplines. The four snowboard slopestyle women were aiming to complete safe runs to remain inside the crucial top 24 ranked athletes in the world.

In her best ever performance at a World Cup, Christy Prior placed second in her qualifying heat allowing her to progress straight through to the final rounds where she upped her game even further to win a gold medal.

Christy described herself as “relieved and really thankful” to have achieved such a strong result. While Winter Performance Programme Director Ashley Light commented that “this result indicates that Christy is now starting to fulfil her true potential.”

Team mate Rebecca Torr also put together a strong performance in qualifying, placing fourth in her heat to earn a semi-final spot. Her fifth place result in semi-finals, while not enough to secure a finals spot, puts her well within the top 24 on the FIS World Ranking list.

While neither Stefi Luxton nor Shelly Gotlieb progressed past qualifying rounds at the Stoneham World Cup, strong results at past qualifying events mean they both retain a top 24 ranking.

In the halfpipe discipline Rebecca Sinclair stepped up her performance at the Stoneham World Cup, “achieving the best levels of performance so far this season,” according to Snow Sports NZ Head Park & Pipe Coach, Tom Willmott. 

Rebecca placed second in her heat allowing her to move through to finals without having to contest the semi-finals rounds.

She finished in fourth place but her international World Cup rankings have risen to second (12th on official world rankings).

While the US teams were absent from both the Stoneham and Gstaad World Cups, Winter Performance Director Ashley Light says these were “reasonably tough fields” and the New Zealand athletes’ results will give them confidence as the moment builds towards the Sochi Games.

New Zealand expects to have qualified 13 spots across the freeski and snowboard disciplines.

Skeleton

Katharine Eustace finished her qualification period for Sochi 2014 with a eleventh placing at the World Cup in Igles, Austria, further improving her performance against New Zealand Olympic Committee selection policy criteria and consolidating her international ranking.

While Eustace further solidified her recent good form, Ben Sandford crashed at high speed during training leaving him badly bruised. The experienced athlete had to settle for last place, opting for safety over points   

New Zealand is pending reallocations of quota spots from the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation. 

Alpine Skiing

While New Zealand looks likely to have qualified four nation spots only two of the national team are on the verge of meeting the tough NZOC selection criteria. Adam Barwood has improved steadily throughout 2013 and is now placed well for selection with Vancouver Olympian Ben Griffin hard on his heels

Speed Skating

New Zealand has confirmed one athlete in Olympic speed skating. Palmerston North’s Shane Dobbin (Vancouver 2010) has been selected for the 5,000m and 10,000m long track speed skating event. No national quota spot has been confirmed at this stage for the short track event.