'Awesome Foursome' set for Kiwi Olympic history

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:03 06/02/2014
Christy Prior
Getty Images

HIGH HOPES: Shelly Gotlieb, Stefi Luxton, Christy Prior and Rebecca Torr of New Zealand.

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Winter Olympics

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For years, they were labelled as the 'other athletes' in world winter sports.

You know the ones; strap on a snowboard, do a few mint jumps and cruise around the world. Compete in the Winter X Games, crash on a few couches - live the good life.

Like it or not, that divide between Winter Olympic events and those not in the Games in has always been there in sports that take place on snow.

With the addition of snowboard slopestyle to the Olympic agenda in Russia, that long-held division has narrowed massively this year - and will provide four Kiwi women with the chance to create history on the snow at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in Sochi.

Snowboarders Shelly Gotlieb, Christy Prior, Stefi Luxton and Rebecca 'Possum' Torr will be the first Kiwis in action at the Winter Olympics this year when they take part in qualifying for the snowboard slopestyle final on Sunday tonight.

The quartet form the biggest nation block in the women's field of 24, with the United States and Finland, two titans in winter sports, providing only three snowboarders each in the discipline.

The IOC decided in 2011 that snowboard slopestyle would be included in the Winter programme this year for the first time,

The event involves athletes travelling down a course, completing jumps and tricks on various rails and obstacles to gain judges' points.

While Wanaka's Wells freeskiers represent the best chance of New Zealand winning its first Winter Olympic podium since slalom skier Annelise Coberger in 1992, the 'Awesome Foursome' are the first legit Kiwi contenders.

Prior comes to Russia in the best form. The Kaukapakapa 25-year-old is ranked seventh in the world heading to Sochi, and won the final slopestyle World Cup event before the Olympics, in Stoneham, Canada, two weeks ago.

Last season was her first full year on the professional tour, and she has been New Zealand's most consistent performer.

Luxton, from Wanaka, is ranked 21st in the world slopestyle ranks, and has endured a mixed winter season heading to Sochi. So too has Te Puke's Torr, though both have the hard-earned experience in the pro ranks to know what to expect in Russia.

Wanaka's Gotlieb perhaps deserves the most recognition for her appearance in Sochi. A long-time pro boarder, the 33-year-old's best result was a bronze at the FIS Snowboarding World Championships in the slopestyle discipline.

The Kiwi women will face a tough field in Sochi. American Jamie Anderson looms as the gold medal favourite with a slew of Winter X Games medals over the last four years, while Canadian Spencer O'Brien is the reigning world champion, after winning the slopestyle at the 2013 FIS Snowboarding World Champs.

British veteran Jenny Jones, the best women's slopestyle between 2009 and 2011, and Norwegian Silje Norendal, who took out the discipline at the Winter X Games in Aspen in January, will also be huge threats. 

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- Fairfax Media

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