Jossi Wells' historic fourth inspired by 'redemption'
BEN STANLEY AND NATHAN BURDON
When Wanaka freeskier Jossi Wells woke up in Sochi on Tuesday morning, he had one thought looming larger than any other - redemption.
A week before, Wells reached the final of the first ever Olympic freeski slopestyle competition - an achievement in itself - but disappointed at the final hurdle, with two under-par runs.
It would not be repeated yesterday morning, Wells narrowly missing out on Kiwi Olympic history with a fourth in the freeski halfpipe.
The finish is New Zealand's best at the Winter Olympics since Albertville in 1992, when slalom skier Annelise Coberger won a silver, while the the Kiwi 5000m speed skating relay team and short track speed skater Mike McMillen both claimed fourth.
Wells described his first run - a stunning 85.60 - as the best he has ever landed in a halfpipe, a freeski discipline he rates second to his preferred slopestyle.
"I knew I was capable of [it]," Wells said. "I just hadn't been riding very much halfpipe, so I wasn't thinking about it a whole lot.
"Going into today I wanted to get a little bit of redemption after the finals in slopestyle. I wanted to get into these finals and do the best I could - and it worked out."
Wells' first run featured an impressive series of jumps ranging from a double 1200 to an impressive switch 90 which saw him head into the final run in bronze medal position.
His second run was strong, scoring 78.40, but Wells was not able to improve on his initial attempt. His top score was eclipsed by Canadian Mike Riddle, who would eventually claim silver.
American David Wise, the current world No 1, won gold, while Frenchman Kevin Rolland claimed bronze.
Wells' historic finish was backed up by hugely impressive showings by his fellow Kiwis in the final, which saw all three finish in the top 10. His brother Beau-James Wells finished sixth while Wanaka's Lyndon Sheehan ended in ninth. The younger Wells' first run was a solid, though unspectacular, 62.00, while his stylish second run scored him a strong 80.00.
Meanwhile, New Zealand speed skater Shane Dobbin has shelved retirement plans after finishing seventh in the 10,000m.
The 34-year-old, who was the Kiwi flagbearer for the opening ceremony in Sochi, had planned to hang up his skates after what was his second Olympic Games, having previously represented New Zealand in Vancouver in 2010.
"Coming into the Games I was pretty set that I was going to retire. I'm 34 now, so I'm not getting any younger," said Dobbin, a former world champion inline skater who hails from Palmerston North but these days is based on the Gold Coast.
"I've made some great improvements over the last eight weeks and I feel like I've got more to give, but now is not the right time to be making decisions with the emotions of the Olympics. I just want to spend some time with my family and in a few months' time I'll decide if I've still got that fight in me and whether I can go around for another four years. If I don't have that fight in me I'll call it, and be happy with what's been done."
Ranked 10th in the world coming into his preferred 10km event, Dobbin adapted better than some of the field to the slower-than-expected ice conditions at the Adler Arena.
The Netherlands swept the podium with 38-year-old Jorrit Bergsma taking gold from Sven Kramer and Bob de Jong.
- The Southland Times