It’s been an incredible year so far for the likes of local ski and snowboard stars Alice Robinson, Nico Porteous and Zoi Sadowski-Synnott.
Wānaka Freeskier Porteous and snowboarder Sadowski-Synnott have been on the podium at every major event they entered this year and were named X-games 2021 World Champions in March, while Queenstown skier Robinson achieved the best World Champs results of her career and took silver at the Giant Slalom World Cup.
Porteous and Sadowski-Synnott made world history when they were just 16. Within hours of each other, they broke a 26 year ‘Winter Olympic medal drought’ when they won bronze medals in the freeski halfpipe and big air events at PyeongChang in 2018.
Annelise Coberger, NZ’s first Winter Olympian, took the silver in alpine skiing slalom in1992.
It’s clear that NZ high performance snowsports is on the rise - and the Wānaka Sun talked to Snowsports NZ CEO Nic Cavanagh and Head Coach Park and Pipe Programme Tom Willmott about how and why NZ’s performance on the world stage has been steadily gaining momentum.
Willmott said the country had seen great success outside of the Olympics since the early 2000s, including a strong history of podium success at the Winter Paralympics - with Adam Hall winning gold in Vancouver 2010, gold and bronze in PyeongChang 2018 and Corey Peters winning silver in Sochi 2014 and bronze in 2018. In that time, NZ also enjoyed numerous World Championship and World Cup podiums, including six-time X-games medallist Jossi Wells being crowned AFP World Champion in 2010.
“In 2014, the disciplines of freeski slopestyle and halfpipe were added to the Olympic roster along with snowboard slopestyle and, more recently, snowboard big air. At the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, NZ achieved four top 10 results in freeski halfpipe and narrowly missed a spot on the podium, with Jossi Wells placing fourth,” said Willmott.
“Since then we have had multiple athletes winning FIS World Cups including Janina Kuzma (freeski halfpipe), Christy Prior (snowboard slopestyle), Tiarn Collins (snowboard slopestyle) and, at the 2018 Winter Olympics, our young guns Nico and Zoi both achieved bronze medals before pushing their performances even further.”
Cavanagh attributed the increase in our world class athletic success in part to direct high performance investment, which started in 2007.
“This has enabled the organisation to build the systems and structures to support success. Prior to that, world class athletes relied heavily on personal investment to compete internationally,” he said. This included dry land training and performance health facilities at the Snowsports NZ Wānaka base, as well as the world class training facilities offered by local ski resort partners.
“Since 2007 we have also developed local domestic capacity and capability to support athletes’ success – reducing the need to travel internationally to progress and perform.”
But funding was not the only factor.
“In high performance sport, there is a saying that ‘excellence doesn’t happen in isolation’” said Cavanagh. “The consistent podium results from Nico, Zoi and Alice are evidence that they are legitimately at the top end of their discipline. Their results also reflect that they are supported by world class coaching, world class performance support, and able to access world class facilities for training and competition.”
Willmott agreed a “combination of factors” led to success in the pipe and park programme. For Porteous and Sadowski-Synnott this included supportive families, training facilities at Cardrona Alpine Resort - and funding from High Performance Sport NZ and a raft of personal sponsors, helping them to become full-time athletes.
“Over and above all of these environmental factors, the most important factors in both Nico and Zoi’s success is their incredible hard work, perseverance and dedication to their craft; it helps that they love what they do!”
Willmott also gave a nod to the rising international profile of park and pipe competition since its inclusion in the Winter Olympics in 2014, which offered “a gateway for athletes in action sports to become more widely known and for interest in these sports to increase as they transition into the mainstream.”
Cavanagh and Willmott looked forward to the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics in February and March 2022, and beyond.
“When our athletes deliver their personal bests we are confident that they are gold medal capable - noting that nothing in sport is guaranteed,” said Cavanagh.
“We have a strong cohort of development athletes targeting podium performances in Milan 2026 in both Olympic and Paralympic disciplines.
“The SSNZ High Performance 2030 strategy is currently in development (due for completion by June 2022) which will be the blueprint for how our athletes and programme continue to inspire NZ by winning on the world stage. A key element to ensuring multiple medals in multiple Olympic and Paralympic cycles will be finding the right balance between the demands of performing at the highest level and athlete wellbeing.”
“The future is bright for snowsports athletes in NZ,” said Willmott. “There is another generation of enthusiastic athletes who have Nico, Zoi, Alice, Adam and Corey as their role models. These youngsters are pushing their own limits on and off the snow every day and the stage is set for our athletes to continue to represent NZ with pride into the future, continue to add to the building legacy and win on the world stage.”
Read edition 1023 of the Wānaka Sun here.