Wanaka freeskier Jossi Wells, seen as New Zealand's biggest podium hope at the Sochi Winter Olympics, admits he is carrying a "niggly" heel injury into slopestyle competition tonight - but is confident it won't hamper his performance.
Wells sustained a badly bruised right heel during training in Colorado last November, and has carried the injury with him into the Olympics.
But Wells, who will compete in the first-ever Olympic freeski slopestyle event with younger brother Beau-James, does not believe the injury will affect him during competition - as it didn't at the FIS World Cup event in Switzerland three weeks ago, which he won.
"The heel is still pretty niggly," the 23-year-old told Fairfax Media. "The first couple of days in practice, the course was pretty icy - and a lot of those landings were kind of squaring [the heel] up a little bit. It hasn't been to the point where I couldn't ride, but it was uncomfortable though. The last couple of days of practice, the snow has softened up and it's feeling really good.
"The body feels like it is on my side. I've got a few different niggly things, but nothing that I haven't dealt with before. I'm feeling better than I have before, so I'm going to go out there and give it my best shot."
Jossi Wells is ranked 17th in the world in freeski slopestyle and Beau-James is ranked 42nd, though those numbers are largely irrelevant, given each nation can send a maximum of four skiers to Sochi. The freeski rankings are full of athletes from the United States and Canada - meaning good runs from the Wells brothers, who are both coached by their father Bruce - should land them close to qualifying for the final.
Much criticism has been levelled at the Sochi slopestyle course at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Jossi Wells has previously brushed the negative talk aside and Beau-James agrees with him.
"I love it - they are the biggest jumps I've ever hit," he said. "It's so fun, and because it's warm, the snow has been quite soft. It's not as hard of an impact on the knees when you do jumps. The rails are fun, too. I kind of was surprised [by the criticism]. I didn't find the course too different to what we normally hit.
"It is the Olympics, so they have made it a little bit bigger - nothing out of the ordinary, though. I was surprised by that. It doesn't worry me, though - if I focus on my things, I should be all right."
Beau-James, 18, believes his top run should warrant him a spot in the slopestyle final.
"I just want to go out there and have the most fun I can," he said. "Hopefully I can get to the finals, or a top ten finish. If I do lay down the best runs I've ever done, I should be up there."
Qualifying for the men's freeski slopestyle finals begins at 7.10pm tonight, and the finals begin at 10.25pm.
- The Southland Times