Wanaka athletes go so close

CHE BAKER
Last updated 05:00 20/02/2014

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New Zealand might have missed out on a medal but athletes from the resort town of Wanaka filled three of the top 10 spots in the men's Freeski Half Pipe event at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, yesterday.

Jossi Wells (fourth), Beau-James Wells (sixth) and Lyndon Sheehan (ninth) delivered on winter sport's highest stage.

Jossi Wells' fourth place is New Zealand's best at the Winter Olympics since Albertville in 1992, when slalom skier Annelise Coberger claimed a silver, while the Kiwi 5000m speed-skating relay team and short-track speed skater Mike McMillen both finished fourth at the same Games in France.

Wells described his first run of two yesterday as the best he has 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."

Snow Sports NZ winter performance programme director Ashley Light, also of Wanaka, said while Wells was disappointed he did not get a medal, his showing was still something for everyone to savour.

"I know he's proud of himself. I'm sure he will wake up in the morning and with a bit of reflection he'll realise what a massive achievement it is."

It was a "phenomenal result", Mr Light said.

Beau-James also proved what a "dark horse" he was and Sheehan had done well to finish in the top 10 despite being injured, Mr Light said. "The whole team's so proud of all three of the guys who made finals tonight," he said.

Lake Bar owner Peter Byrne, of Wanaka, said support from the locals had been "absolutely solid".

The bar had joined forces with Wanaka-based merino clothing company Mons Royale and On Media with to create a "locals supporting locals" hub during the Olympics.

About 250 people turned out to watch and support the team, dressed in black and white, during the women's snowboard slopestyle event when Shelly Gotlieb, Stefi Luxton, Christy Prior and Rebecca Torr competed. Another 250 cheered on during the men's freeski slopestyle to watch Jossi and Beau-James Wells.

"It was a real electric atmosphere. Everyone realised it had the potential to be a real memorable occasion," Mr Byrne said.

It had been a "feelgood time" to see the Wells family supporting each other from the sidelines, he said.

But despite delighting in the top 10, the New Zealand Winter Olympics had young Arrowtowner Hamish Bagley in their thoughts yesterday.

Hamish was killed in a car crash in the Lindis Pass last Sunday and the Kiwi Olympians held a private ceremony in Sochi to honour him.

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The 17-year-old, a rising talent in the Kiwi snow sports scene, narrowly missed out on making the team to Russia.

"That was really heavy to hear," Jossi Wells said.

"We had a moment to remember Hamish and talked about him as well."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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