Kiwis will be feeling the pressure – Julianne Bray

Last updated 05:00 04/02/2014

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You can try to ignore it, but the pressure to perform at the Winter Olympics will still be there for the New Zealand team in Sochi, according to Julianne Bray.

The two-time Winter Olympian and New Zealand flagbearer at the Vancouver Games will be a keen spectator from her Wanaka base during the new few weeks.

"It's so hard not to feel the pressure. There's a lot of stuff going through your head, which doesn't happen at another competition. That's partly because you know that everyone is watching around the world," Bray, who retired from international snowboarding competition four years ago, said.

Bray finished just inside the top 20 in the halfpipe and just outside the top 20 in the boarder cross, after suffering a fall, in Torino in 2006.

In Vancouver she was again affected by falls and finished 25th in the halfpipe, but had done well to even qualify after suffering a dislocated shoulder a year before the Games.

The actual competition at an Olympics was similar to any of the other myriad events on the international calendar, she said.

"It's not all that different for snowboarding, because you are competing against pretty much the same people at competitions. For the Olympics, the main difference was the commitment in terms of the amount of time you were there and the team spirit and the whole Olympic spirit, which is actually really neat. That's something you don't get at a regular competition. Once you are in the actual halfpipe, it feels quite familiar because of the people you are around. I think the slopestyle girls will feel quite empowered because there's four of them and there's only a field of about 24."

Bray said the preparation before an Olympics was a case of finding the correct balance between pushing yourself and ensuring you were able to pull something special out at the right time, especially something that would impress the judges.

"Building up to the Olympics, everybody is really trying to progress. It's an exciting time to be in such a creative sport and you have to really challenge yourself," she said.

"I can imagine for the athletes, over the last few months; there's a fine line between how much you push yourself and risk injury. A lot of people get a bit confused about that. The New Zealand team have probably been battling in their heads about whether they go for the triple cork or a safety trick and just pull it out at the Olympics."

Making the matter even more difficult was the fact training times could be heavily affected by the weather.

During the buildup to Vancouver, Bray was assigned 10 hours of training time over five days, but bad conditions meant she actually ended up getting less than half of that.

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Life's rarely simple for New Zealand's snowsport athletes.

Long days of travelling between venues in Europe cut into training time. The support of friends and contacts overseas can be essential in lieu of financial support.

While the funding model has changed somewhat, thanks to additional funding channelled to New Zealand athletes through the IOC, Bray's career survived on what she earned from sponsors and performance grants based on results at key events.

These days Bray is coaching at Cardrona and is expecting a big crew of Wanaka residents to congregate at a local bar showing coverage of the Games.

- The Southland Times

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