Copper Mountain, Colorado - (18 December 2013) – With Wednesday 18 December marking 50 days until the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, New Zealand’s top freeskiers and snowboarders have begun competing at one of the final Olympic qualifying events.
The International Ski Federation (FIS) Freeski and Snowboard World Cup is taking place at Copper Mountain in Colorado, USA from 18 – 22 December. Athletes from over 25 countries will strive to earn not only a national but also their personal spot for Sochi 2014. The stakes are particularly high with freeski and snowboard slopestyle and freeski halfpipe featuring on the Olympic programme for the first time in 2014 and athletes looking to be a part of the historic event.
The action got underway at Copper Mountain today with New Zealanders competing in men’s freeski slopestyle and women’s snowboard halfpipe.
Men’s Freeski Slopestyle
With a strong and deep international field, the men’s freeski slopestyle contest saw a number of exceptionally high-scoring runs. The USA’s Nick Goepper earned the top overall qualifying score of 94.33, taking the same no holds barred approach which earned him first place in slopestyle at last week’s iON Mountain Championships Dew Tour competition.
Amongst the Kiwi contingent, up and coming skier Beau-James Wells (Wanaka) was the top scorer, finishing 9th in his heat and 40th in overall placings, outside the cut off for Saturday’s finals. Only the top four competitors from each of the four heats progressed through to finals.
Beau-James put down a solid first run to score 70.33 but a falter on a rail on the second run meant that he did not up his score. His goal for the event had been to “put down the two best runs I’ve ever done. I didn’t really have much of a result in mind, just for myself I wanted to ski my best and I just didn’t quite do that.”
Youngest Wells brother, Jackson, also competed in today’s slopestyle event having earned a wild card entry to only his second ever World Cup. “I was pretty stoked when that happened,” he remarked.
Jackson placed 59th in the overall rankings followed by fellow New Zealanders Hamish McDougall (Wanaka) in 60th and Harry Pettit in 89th.
Eldest Wells brothers Jossi and Byron will sit out this World Cup due to injury. Their coach, Bruce Wells, commented that both have been recovering well. Jossi and Byron are expected to be back on snow within two weeks, in time to compete at the two final World Cup events before final selection for the Olympic team is made in January.
Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle
Rebecca Sinclair (Wanaka) was the sole New Zealand competitor in today’s women’s snowboard halfpipe event. Competition was fierce with the world’s best female snowboarders battling for a spot in the finals and only the top three from each of the two heats plus the next two top qualifiers able to proceed.
Rebecca Sinclair endured an injury-affected season in early 2013; however, the 2010 Vancouver Olympian is now focused on securing her place on the team for the Sochi Games. Rebecca’s qualifying campaign took a leap forward last week when she earned a silver medal at the FIS Snowboard World Cup in Ruka, Finland.
Today didn’t see such a successful result, with Rebecca placing tenth in her qualifying heat and therefore not proceeding to the final round. While not the best result she could hope for Rebecca’s coach Tom Willmott called it a “promising performance” particularly given that her heat included five Olympic medallists.
“Today was the biggest amplitude we’ve seen Bex get since she was on her previous best form, pre-injury,” he explained. “Now we need to piece together the more technical moves at the same amplitude and we should be looking good for Sochi.”
Rebecca commented that she was “pretty happy with the result. I went in there hoping to get more points and move up the rankings.”
Competition continues tomorrow with men’s snowboard slopestyle and men’s and women’s freeski halfpipe qualifying rounds.