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Stanley: Journalist 'bombed' in her judgment

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 23/02/2014

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Winter Olympics

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OPINION: It's a legendary scene in cinema: Colonel Walter E Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, peering out of the darkness in his Cambodian jungle compound in Francis Ford Coppola's 1978 war classic Apocalypse Now.

"It's judgment that defeats us," he whispers. He's talking about the insanity of the Vietnam War, of course, but the weight behind the phrase rings true for anything in life.

It is always judgment that defeats us - especially judgment that is not only ill-informed but ill-timed.

Such was the case last week when a journalist from an Auckland newspaper took aim at the New Zealand Winter Olympics campaign in Sochi.

In the piece last Wednesday, the writer said the team had "bombed spectacularly" and likened the New Zealanders in Russia to "a bunch of Kiwis on an expensive skiing holiday."

Massive comments coming from a journalist who has never covered winter sports, and who, only a week before, mocked the Kiwi winter athletes on social media for the way they spoke.

The column lit a fire under me as soon as I read it. The "bombed spectacularly" comment was certainly misguided - the writer didn't appear to know that New Zealand had three athletes involved in the freeski halfpipe competition that morning.

Not only did all three make the final, they placed fourth (Jossi Wells), sixth (Beau-James Wells) and ninth (Lyndon Sheehan) - one of the rare occasions in Kiwi Olympic history, summer or winter, that three New Zealanders have finished so high in a single event.

Add in Shane Dobbin's seventh in the 10,000m long track speed skating that morning, and world No. 18 Janina Kuzma's fifth in the women's freeski halfpipe on Friday, and New Zealand has produced its best overall team result in 22 years.

Five top ten finishes is a fantastic return, with Kuzma's result moving the final grading from par to over-achievement.

There have been disappointing results - Ben Sandford and Bex Sinclair spring to mind - but the overall performance has certainly justified the team being in Sochi.

Three top 10s and a medal have been the goal from the NZOC since the ineptitude of Vancouver and previous Games.

But for Canadian Mike Riddle's stunning last run in the men's freeski halfpipe final, Jossi Wells - who eventually claimed a fourth - would have nabbed a bronze and the nation would have been elated.

It wasn't to be, but the experience gained by freeskier Beau-James Wells and snowboarder Christy Prior, who was concussed before she could compete in her semifinal, will be invaluable in our next nudge in four years' time.

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Questions have been raised about the antics of the athletes before and after runs at events, too. A fair query - but you must understand that that is the culture of their sports, and the freeski halfpipe, slopestyle and snowboard slopestyle are all first-time Olympic events this year.

These athletes compete on the Dew Tour and Winter X Games all year round where personality like what they showed in Russia is embraced, and encouraged.

For these guys, who largely come and go on very little despite the incredibly dangerous nature of their sports, being in a happy mood actually helps them perform better.

Now, does that transfer on to the Olympic stage? Perhaps not - but shouldn't it have been the duty of the NZOC media management team to take the athletes aside and say how about you tone it down just a little.

Don't think that our athletes don't care if they lose, or don't qualify for finals either. It cuts them deep.

They might not show it like a gutted Richie McCaw after a World Cup quarterfinal effort, but they do feel it.

Snowboarder Rebecca "Possum" Torr should certainly get a rap across the knuckles for some of the Tinder carry-on that she kicked off, but she fronted up on social media about her on-course performance in Sochi - admitting she cried for "five hours" after it was all over.

I have been a sports journalist for three years, and have never interviewed such refreshing, endearing and passionate athletes as the Wells boys.

Jossi is a class act, a bloke who has character but is also a consummate professional analysing his own performances.

He was heartbroken after his poor show in the slopestyle final.

"It's judgment that defeats us," Kurtz whispered. If you don't do your homework, it always will.

- Sunday News

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