As competition gets underway today, New Zealand park and pipe athletes are looking for a homegrown opportunity to qualify crucial Olympic spots ahead of Sochi 2014.
With the majority of the New Zealand Olympic Team to Sochi expected to be made up of the freeski and snowboard disciplines the event is valuable.
“Winter Games NZ is a platinum event that gives us the opportunity to qualify snowboard and freeski spots at home – a luxury in a training programme that takes us overseas for up to eight months a year.
The New Zealand team has already qualified eleven spots but Winter Performance Programme Director Ashley Light says the team wants more.
“We’re looking for five extra quota spots in the new Olympic freeski and snowboard slope style disciplines as well as one in women’s snowboard halfpipe,” said Light.
While some quota spots have been confirmed, the athletes to fill them are yet to be named as the as the World Cup season continues. Athletes must not only qualify an Olympic spot, but must also meet tougher New Zealand Olympic Committee selection criteria.
“The bar has been raised”, said Light of the Sochi 2014 Olympic New Zealand Olympic Committee selection criteria. “It’s now the 50/50/50 formula - athletes must compete in half the available qualifying events, and finish in the top half of the field, half of the time. That’s a step up from where we were at ahead of the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.”
This formula applies across snow and ice sports and reflects the performance, planning and funding improvements across the Winter Performance Programme. A formal target of one medal has been agreed with the sports and HPSNZ.
Where that medal may come from, however, is not simple to predict says Light.
“In the past six months 20 different riders have been on the World Cup podiums in men’s freeski,” he explained. “This shows how variable results can be in the new Olympic sports.”
“The tricks you need to win push the athletes to the edge and there is absolutely no margin for error. You’ve got to be on your feet at the end.”
“While traditionally easier to predict, the ice sports also can see last minute upsets.”
In spite of the tougher criteria, the New Zealand Olympic Team is still expected to number 15 - 20 athletes, similar to both Vancouver 2010 and Torino 2006.
Ice sport selection concludes in December 2013 and snow sports in January 2014.
The Olympic Games take place in Sochi, Russia 7 – 23 February 2014.
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