When Wanaka freeskier Jossi Wells woke up in Sochi on Tuesday morning, he had one thought looming larger than any other – redemption.
A week before, Wells reached the final of the first ever Olympic freeski slopestyle competition – an achievement in itself – but disappointed at the final hurdle, with two under-par runs.
It would not be repeated yesterday morning, Wells narrowly missing out on Kiwi Olympic history with a fourth in the freeski halfpipe.
The finish is New Zealand's best at the Winter Olympics since Albertville in 1992, when slalom skier Annelise Coberger won a silver, while the the Kiwi 5000m speed skating relay team and short track speed skater Mike McMillen both claimed fourth.
Wells described his first run – a stunning 85.60 – as the best he has ever 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.
"Going into today I wanted to get a little bit of redemption after the finals in slopestyle. I wanted to get into these finals and do the best I could – and it worked out."
Wells' first run featured an impressive series of jumps ranging from a double 1200 to an impressive switch 90 which saw him head into the final run in bronze medal position.
His second run was strong, scoring 78.40, but Wells was not able to improve on his initial attempt. His top score was eclipsed by Canadian Mike Riddle, who would eventually claim silver.
American David Wise, the current world number one, won gold, while Frenchman Kevin Rolland claimed bronze.
Wells' historic finish was backed up by hugely impressive showings by his fellow Kiwis in the final, which saw all three finish in the top 10.
His brother Beau-James Wells finished sixth while Wanaka's Lyndon Sheehan ended in ninth. The younger Wells' first run was a solid, though unspectacular, 62.00, while his stylish second run scored him a strong 80.00.
Australia-born Sheehan scored 55.20 on his first run, before a strong final attempt that scored a creditable 72.60.
Conditions at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park were difficult, with heavy sleet and snow making the much-criticised halfpipe a slower course for skiers. Jossi Wells didn't use the weather as an excuse for just missing the podium.
"It was really snowy and slow, the pipe was running really slow," he said. "But our wax tech Chris Rogers kept us cruising.
"Everyone has to ride the exact same pipe in competition. So even though the conditions were bad, everyone competes at the same level and they hand out medals. We still ride."
Earlier in the week, the remaining New Zealand Olympic team members held a private ceremony in Sochi to honour Arrowtown snowboarder Hamish Bagley, who died in a car crash in New Zealand earlier this week.
The 17-year-old was seen as a rising talent in the Kiwi snow sports scene, and had attempted to qualify for the 2014 Games.
"That was really heavy to hear," Wells said. "We had a moment to remember Hamish and talked about him as well."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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