2013 review: Kiwis tipped to be strong in Sochi

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2013
Jossi Wells
Getty Images
HOPEFUL: Jossi Wells is one of three Wanaka brothers to have been invited to the X Games.

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Ever since Annelise Coberger won silver in alpine skiing at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, a shadow has been cast over competitive snow sports in New Zealand.

This year, however, it seems our winter athletes are preparing to step out from Coberger's lone Winter Olympic medallist's shadow, and carve a new legacy for Kiwis out on the snow and ice.

Through World Cup qualifications this year, New Zealand is on track for its biggest Winter Olympics team yet in Sochi, Russia, next February.

The Kiwi contingent should feature up to 20 athletes, but a strong year by New Zealanders in the Winter Olympics' newest disciplines has set a sound foundation for history in Russia.

Three of Wanaka's talented Wells brothers have qualified spots for Sochi in freeski halfpipe, with Jossi, Byron and Beau-James likely to join fellow Central Otago resident Lyndon Sheehan in Russia.

Athletes qualify spots through World Cup points, but the NZOC can still decide which athletes to send. A further spot for a New Zealander has been qualified in the men's freeski slopestyle, which will likely come down to either Jossi or Byron.

Jossi, the big name, has had a mixed year. Despite winning silver at the Euro Winter X Games' ski slopestyle in March, the 23-year-old has had stem cell surgery in his knees.

Two Kiwi women skiers will be competing in the half-pipe and slopestyle, with Janina Kuzma and Samantha Poots likely to qualify.

Wanaka's Shelly Gotlieb, Ohakune's Stefi Luxton and Te Puke's Rebecca Torr qualified three spots in Olympic snowboard slopestyle, another new discipline, by August. Kaukapakapa's Christy Prior, who could be a real smokey for a Sochi medal, scored the final qualifying spot in the last two months.

A silver two weeks ago in a Finnish World Cup event sees Wanaka snowboarder Rebecca Sinclair on the verge of making the Games in snowboard half-pipe.

In the traditional events, spots have opened up for New Zealand in skeleton (one woman and one man), and speed skating (one man).

Rotorua's Ben Sandford and Wanaka's Katharine Eustace look odds-on to head over for the skeleton, while Palmerston North's Shane Dobbin should have the inside track for the skating.

The biennial New Zealand Winter Games were a high point on the local snow sports scene this August, with the second appearance of snowboarding superstar Shaun White a massive get for the event.

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- Fairfax Media

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