Snowsports: Countdown to Winter Olympics begins in earnest

Byron Wells.
Byron Wells.
New Zealand competitiors have started the countdown to the 2014 Winter Olympics in earnest.

Four members of the New Zealand team made finals at the World Cup opener at Copper Mountain, Colorado, at the weekend.

Wanaka freeskier Byron Wells qualified for the freeski halfpipe finals. There were four heats, the top two from each joining the four next best skiers in a 12-man final.

After crashing in his first run, Wells opted for a relatively conservative second run, which enabled him to qualify first in his heat and sixth overall with a score of 88.

Unfortunately, he sustained a soft tissue injury which subsequently prevented him from competing in the finals.

Older brother Jossi Wells was disappointed to miss out on halfpipe finals qualification, finishing fifth in his heat with a score of 76 after crashing in his first run.

Younger brother Beau-James Wells finished sixth in his heat. He landed his first run but a riskier second run pushed the envelope a little too far.

Lyndon Sheehan, another Wanaka-based skier, suffered a similar fate; gaining confidence with a strong first run but coming unstuck in his second. Sheehan placed fourth in his heat with a score of 68.6.

Janina Kuzma (Wanaka) finished eighth in her heat of the women's freeski halfpipe following some flat landings and a lack of amplitude.

Stef Zeestraten (Wanaka), who had a heavy fall in training and injured his shoulder, finished 47th in the men's snowboard slopestyle. Ben Comber suffered crashes in both runs, finishing 78th, with Tim Herbert 51st.

In freeski slopestyle, Jossi Wells landed a new run for the first time in competition, including back-to-back switch left and right double 1080s, to score 79.6 and place third in his heat. He was 21st overall, missing out on finals qualification. Beau-James Wells scored a 78 on his second run for fifth in the same heat and 25th overall.

Other New Zealanders in the competition included Hamish McDougall (Wanaka) and Alec Savery (Queenstown), who placed 55th and 81st respectively. Byron Wells chose not to compete due to injury.

Hamish Bagley was the sole New Zealand representative in the men's snowboard halfpipe field. He claimed 18th in his heat and 71st overall.

In women's snowboard slopestyle, Stefi Luxton (Wanaka) placed seventh and Rebecca Torr (Te Puke) ninth. Shelly Gotlieb (Ohakune) suffered a disappointing day, crashing twice.

Slopestyle snowboarding is a new Olympic sport and will feature for the first time in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

A fall in training resulted in a bruised heel for Adie Lawrence (Queenstown) and she was unable to compete in the women's freeski slopestyle, leaving team-mates Rose Battersby (Taupo) and Anna Wilcox-Silfverberg (Auckland) to fly the flag. Battersby scraped into the finals despite a first-run crash, and crashed again in the finals. Anna Wilcox-Silfverberg was 16th after qualifying.

The snowboarders now prepare for the world championships in Canada, while the skiers head to their world championships in Norway.

For Jossi and Byron Wells, all thoughts will be on the X-Games, beginning in Aspen on January 27. Jossi will compete in the Big Air and Byron in the freeski halfpipe.