Fifteen athletes have been named to the New Zealand Olympic Winter Team in snowboard, freeski, alpine skiing, ice speed skating and skeleton.
Athletes competing in sports new to the Olympic Winter programme, snowboard slopestyle and freeski halfpipe and slopestyle dominate the team, including recent world cup gold medallists Christy Prior (snowboard slopestyle) and Jossi Wells (freeski slopestyle).
With the introduction of new sports, 12 of the 15 selected New Zealand team members will be first time Olympians, with just three athletes having attended an Olympic Games previously; Rebecca (Bex) Sinclair (snowboard halfpipe, Vancouver 2010), Ben Sandford (skeleton, Torino 2006, Vancouver 2010) and Shane Dobbin (speed skating, Vancouver 2010).
New Zealand Olympic Committee CEO Kereyn Smith says the team is exciting. “New Zealand has had some strong results in the adrenaline-filled freeski and snowboard disciplines and we’re delighted that our athletes will be at Sochi 2014 competing in cutting edge Olympic sports,” she said.
“We also welcome back athletes competing in ice speed skating and skeleton where selection criteria have been tougher than in previous years.”
Smith added that strengthened selection criteria ensured that athletes selected for New Zealand had proven themselves with a track record of credible performances leading into the Olympic Winter Games, seeing them largely achieve top half of the field finishes over the qualifying period.
Jossi Wells (freeski halfpipe and slopestyle), who will be joined in the team by his two younger brothers Byron (freeski halfpipe) and Beau James (freeski halfpipe and slopestyle), as well as father and coach Bruce Wells, says representing New Zealand at the Olympic Games for the first time will be a huge honour.
“I’m really proud to have been named to the Olympic team and to have the opportunity to represent New Zealand in Sochi. With my sport being part of the Winter Olympics for the first time ever I’m even more stoked to be going,” Wells said.
Bex Sinclair is the only park-and-pipe athlete that has been to the Olympic Winter Games before and has made an encouraging comeback from serious injury, now sitting 12th on international rankings and second on the World Cup circuit.
Her previous Olympic experience will help her provide a steadying hand in the pressure-filled Olympic environment.
Head coach of the Olympic park and pipe snow sports team Tom Willmott says blood, sweat and tears have gone into Olympic preparation for his athletes. “It’s been four long years and we’re looking to maintain the recent strong momentum heading into the Olympic Games and deliver the results that the team is capable of,” he said.