Olympic champ White back for Winter Games

AIRDOG: World-renowned snowboarder, Shaun White, won Olympic gold in the snowboard halfpipe at Vancouver in 2010.
AIRDOG: World-renowned snowboarder, Shaun White, won Olympic gold in the snowboard halfpipe at Vancouver in 2010.

Reigning Olympic champion, and world snowboarding legend, Shaun White will be one of the headline acts at Winter Games NZ 2013.

He will be joined by a host of elite snow sports athletes with more than 25 nations confirmed so far and many more expected to register in the run up to the event that begins on August 15.

White won Olympic gold in the snowboard halfpipe at Vancouver in 2010 after dominating the same event at the inaugural Winter Games NZ six months earlier.

Still regarded by many as world No 1 in halfpipe, he will face stiff competition at Cardrona Alpine Resort this year from the likes of Iouri Podladtchikov from Switzerland and Finland's Markus Malin who took superpipe silver at January's X-Games Aspen.

Compatriot Peetu Piiroinen, 2010 Olympic silver medallist in halfpipe and overall champion on the World Snowboard Tour for the past four years, is a strong contender to take out the FIS Snowboard Slopestyle Men's World Cup also at Cardrona.

The finals on August 19 will be a preview of the event's Winter Olympic debut at Sochi, Russia next February.

The Finn will be up against top riders like Canadian Mark McMorris, this season's world No 1-ranked Slopestyle World Tour rider with wins at the Burton US Open, X-Games Aspen and Dew Tour Mountain Championships, and Norway's Torstein Horgmo, currently ranked third.

A "who's who" of the world's best freeskiers will face down Wanaka brothers Jossi, Byron and Beau-James Wells in the FIS Halfpipe and Slopestyle World Cups.

American Gus Kenworthy, who pipped Jossi Wells to the AFP men's overall world title this season.

He will be joined by third ranked Henrik Harlaut from Sweden, Kenworthy's US team-mate Tom Wallisch who won the slopestyle event at this year's FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships in Norway, Australia's Russ Henshaw, currently ranked second in slopestyle and winner of the 2012 NZ Freeski Open, third-ranked slopestyler James Woods, from Great Britain, and Canadians Mike Riddle and Justin Dorey who respectively won the AFP World Championships in 2012 and 2011.

Elite women athletes also face pre-Sochi showdowns at FIS World Cup events in halfpipe and slopestyle for both snowboarding and freeskiing.

Entries so far include the United States' Devin Logan and Jamie Anderson, both among the favourites for Winter Olympic gold in 2014.

Logan finished first in the 2011/12 AFP overall rankings, won gold in all three freeski events at Winter Games NZ 2011 and is returning from injury.

Snowboarder Anderson is the current overall leader for slopestyle on the World Snowboard Tour.

Cross-country skiing, which kicks off the Winter Games NZ at Snow Farm on August 15, is well represented by a strong US team including two-time, Olympian Andy Newell and 2012 national champion, Noah Hoffman.

They will be joined by other top names looking to add a competitive edge to their Olympic buildup including Alex Harvey from Canada who took sixth overall in the 2011-12 FIS Cross-Country World Cup and just missed out on an Olympic medal, when fourth in the Team Sprint event at Vancouver 2010.

As well as winter sports powerhouses like the US, Canada and Switzerland entries have been received from nations as varied as Chinese Taipei, Ireland, Belgium and British Virgin Islands.

Winter Games NZ chief executive Arthur Klap said the quality of entries means this year's event is shaping up to be the best yet.

"The 2013 Games are a vital stepping stone to Sochi and the importance of Olympic qualification is clearly attracting all the top names to New Zealand. I would expect many of the medal winners here in the Southern Alps to be on the podium in Russia next February," he said.

"Shaun White's performance at Winter Games NZ 2009 will long be remembered and it's a testament to our position as one of the world's top five winter sports events that he is scheduling a trip Down Under along with so many other top athletes as part of their Olympic preparations."

Winter Games NZ 2013 takes place over 11-days from August 15 to 25 at the international resorts of Coronet Peak, Cardrona Alpine Resort and Snow Farm, along with the Maniototo Curling International Rink.

Set against the spectacular backdrop of New Zealand's Southern Alps, the Games also include a full Downtown Sessions festival programme featuring films, live music and entertainment in Queenstown and Lake Wanaka.

The Southland Times