The International Olympic Committee announced overnight in London that men’s and women's ski halfpipe has been added to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The decision to include ski half-pipe was based on the event’s ability to add value to the Olympic Games with positive factors including its universality, youth appeal and gender equity.
With two athletes, Jossi and Byron Wells, currently in the top ten in ski halfpipe this is fantastic news for New Zealand. Jossi was overall world champion last year and brother Byron is currently ranked number six in the world.
Jossi Wells flies high in the pipe at Winter X Games Photo: Christian Pondella
““I was pretty stoked this morning when I woke up and saw all the posts on facebook,” said Byron. “I was half expecting it, but it’s nice to have it confirmed.”
“It will be a busy three years with lots of hard work, training and dedication,” said Byron.
While there are other talented skiers in the pipeline, including world number three ranked big mountain skier Janina Kuzma who will start focusing on halfpipe, the challenge for New Zealand over the next three years will be to build more depth in pipe skiers.
“Hopefully the inclusion of pipe skiing in the Olympics will lead to more work being put in by the athletes and perhaps attract more to the sport,” said freeski coach Bruce Wells.
Adding, “We’ll be on the lookout for good gymnasts who can actually turn their skis too and want to give it a shot.”
While this may sound like a joke it isn’t. Winter Performance Programme director, Ashley Light concurred.
“We’ll be working to identify talent and build the developing level athletes to create a pipeline for the sport.”
Other New Zealand athletes that are currently considered 2014 Olympic hopefuls include Lyndon and Amy Sheehan, Rose Battersby, Beau-James Wells, Raphael Beazley and Matt Johnson.
From a funding perspective, the inclusion of ski halfpipe is promising.
Winter sport has been allocated $900,000 in 2011 and 2012, rising to $1.3m in 2011 and $1.5m in 2012 if the disciplines of freeski halfpipe, snowboard slopestyle and freeski slopestyle are added to the programme for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
The International Olympic Committee’s decisions on whether snowboard slopestyle and freeski slopestyle will be added is expected in a matter of weeks.
“We’ve been anticipating this announcement,” said Light. “It’s very promising for the sport and we look forward to working with the athletes for good performances at Sochi.”
“We have a provisional plan in place and will begin working with the athletes, the sport and coaches to further identify the athlete’s needs.”
In addition to the potential for further high performance investment from SPARC, Performance Enhancement Grants (PEGS) funding will also go up with the cap increasing from $15k to $60k for those athletes achieving top 16 results at pinnacle events.
“The additional funds help us access the best training facilities in New Zealand and around the world,” said Bruce Wells.
Adding, “We can target more camps and put more work into pipe specific training year-round.”
Freeski coach and former Freeski Association sport committee member, Pete Legnavsky said, “Hopefully this will get everyone as excited about freeskiing as they were when snowboarding was first introduced. “
Adding, “It’s not just about what will be happening at the top, it’s also what will happen in the middle and at the bottom. Inclusion in the Olympics has the potential to build the sport immensely providing clear pathways from grass roots to elite level competition.”
The new event was announced as the New Zealand Olympic Committee confirmed Christchurch’s Peter Wardell will be the Chef de Mission for the 2014 team.
“I’m delighted to be leading the team to Russia,” said Wardell today. “The inclusion of ski half-pipe will be a major boost for New Zealand winter sports. Kiwi winter athletes thrive on adrenaline and risk and this is what ski half-pipe is all about. The event is ideally suited to our facilities and will attract a new generation of winter athletes.
“It has been many years since a New Zealand Team has gone to an Olympic Games with athletes in medal contention and the inclusion of the new event certainly makes this a possibility. “