Can NZ win its first Winter Olympics gold medal?

Flag bearers Finn Bilous (left) and Alice Robinson lead the New Zealand team during the Opening...
Flag bearers Finn Bilous (left) and Alice Robinson lead the New Zealand team during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Photo: Getty Images
For the first time, New Zealand has athletes at the Winter Olympics who can be considered genuine medal contenders.

The 24th Winter Olympics officially opened in Beijing this morning amid the possibility the New Zealand national anthem could be heard at the event for the first time.

New Zealand first competed at the Winter Olympics in 1952 in Oslo and, until Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Nico Porteous hit the headlines with bronze medals in PyeongChang four years ago, the only medal success New Zealand had tasted was skier Annelise Coberger’s slalom silver medal in 1992.

Sadowski-Synott and Porteous have arrived in Beijing in great form after winning gold medals at the recent X-Games in Colorado.

Snowboarder Sadowski-Synnott landed some new tricks while winning in Aspen and is excited to be on top of her game.

However, winning New Zealand’s first winter Olympic gold medal is something she is not thinking about.

‘‘I’m mostly thinking about the tricks I want to do and the results figure themselves out because that’s always what I’ve done in the past,’’ Sadowski-Synnott said.

‘‘To win a gold would be absolutely insane and it would mean so much to me but there are so many other girls who are capable of beating me.’’

Freeskier Nico Porteous, who became New Zealand’s youngest Olympic Games medallist when he was 16, is also coming off X-Games success.

In Colorado, he completed what was described as one of the most technical halfpipe runs ever seen.

However he is humble about what he’s achieved and actually says he’s continually inspired by Sadowski-Synnott.

‘‘To be on the same team as Zoi and to watch her compete and absolutely dominate is so inspiring and I think the rest of the team would agree with me on that.

‘‘To be pushing that and pushing new boundaries that we’ve never seen before is incredible,’’ Porteous said.

That success has certainly inspired others — there are 10 other freeskiers or boarders on the New Zealand team in Beijing.

One of those is 16-year-old Gustav Legnavsky who is the youngest member of the team.

He watched New Zealand pick up those bronze medals four years ago.

As a 12-year-old, Legnavsky had no thoughts about competing at the Olympics himself.

‘‘I didn’t have any expectations back then. I just remember watching Nico and Zoi and making the most ugly photo to put on my Instagram and be the first person to put it out there.

‘‘I was really stoked for them and it definitely inspired me, but I was still pretty young and didn’t understand what was going on.’’

Cool Wakushima is competing in the snowboard slopestyle and big air alongside Sadowski-Synnott.

Wakushima said Sadowski-Synnott was the woman who inspired her to compete on the world stage and she could learn so much from her.

‘‘She definitely has a drive to land everything and I respect the consistency that she has in every competition, it’s pretty cool. I hope I can get there and do the same, some day.’’

Alpine skier Alice Robinson, competing in second Games, offers more experience.

Since 2018, she has become a regular on the world cup circuit, winning three giant slalom races and claiming the junior world championship title in 2019.

Speedskater Peter Michael (32) is also attending his second Games.

Michael is aiming to make some waves in Beijing especially after finishing fourth twice in PyeongChang four years ago.

He finished fourth in the 5000m and team pursuit and will race the 1500m and possibly the 5000m in Beijing.

‘‘Yeah defiantly motivated. It’s always difficult to walk away with a couple of fourths.

‘‘Everyone says that second sucks but, in reality, fourth, I can guarantee you, is a lot worse.’’

New Zealand has 15 competitors in Beijing who will be among almost 3000 taking part from 91 nations.

A total of 109 medal events in 15 sports will be contested at the Winter Olympics.

Norway topped the medal table four years ago and is expected to lead the way again this time.

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