Skiing: Home slopes call for a greater effort

By Peter Thornton

Jossi Wells. Photo / AP
Jossi Wells. Photo / AP

Jossi Wells is living the life of a rock 'n' roll superstar.

He fits in a quick interview for 60 Minutes as he prepares to be one of New Zealand's leading medal hopes for this week's Winter Games.

The 21-year-old freeskiing world champion's life includes film shoots, helicopters and international travel. But keeping his feet on the ground isn't a problem.

"My father keeps me grounded," said Wells. "If you'd ever met my Dad [Bruce] then you'd understand."

"He is a good bloke and he is the best man at making sure I don't get ahead of myself.

"People look at our sport and they think it is all glitz and glamour but after a day of putting on a show for the cameras on the mountain and giving it my absolute all, I am totally shattered. There is a lot to do with media and travel.

I am busy all the time so I need to pace myself. But I can't complain. I love what I do."

There has been a mixed mood in the Wells household in Wanaka this week ahead of the NZ Winter Games. You would expect it to be fever pitch but as the bi-annual games begin today two of the brothers are ready to put on a show while a third is hobbling around on crutches.

Jossi, who missed last year's FIS World Championship in Wanaka with a broken ankle, and Beau James, 15, will compete but Byron, 19, has been ruled out with a knee injury.

The freakishly talented Wells' freeskiing army, (yes, there's also Jackson) which is coached by their father, Bruce, is down to two for the games where a 140 strong Kiwi team will compete.

"There is nothing like competing at home," said Jossi. "It is awesome to be able to sleep in my own bed and to compete in front of my family and friends. Mum doesn't travel with us so I love the home competition because she is part of it.

Byron said: "I am real bummed. I have been looking forward to a good contest with my bro. I have been skiing better and better this season so it would have been fun. I will go into rehab and be back."

Byron will have surgery in two weeks' time on his knee. He will not ski for six months and will not be able to perform any jumps for nine months. Meanwhile, for the rest of the Kiwis, the chance to take on the world's best on their home slopes is a rare opportunity and the games has played a significant role in readying Kiwi athletes for international competition.

"It is absolutely critical in developing our talent," said games chief executive Arthur Klap. "It gives a wider group of our promising athletes the opportunity to compete in an international event at home. They see how good they need to be to compete with the best in the world."

The Wells boys have been buoyed by the news that slopestyle skiing - one of the strongest disciplines - is included on the roster of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia.

This weekend is their first chance to compete in slopestyle since it was included in the snow sports showpiece.

"Throughout my career I have focused equally between the two [slopestyle and halfpipe] and I enjoy both as much as the other," said Jossi. "So it is really awesome to see slopestyle in the Olympics because I can keep going with both with the same intensity - I can continue to do what I love."

Byron said: "It would be a dream come true to compete at the Olympics with as many brothers as possible and our dad as the coach."

Jossi knows that looking ahead to 2014 there will be expectation from a range of sources to win New Zealand's first Winter Olympics medal since Annelise Coberger in 1992.

After breaking his elbow at the end of the Northern Hemisphere season in Norway, Jossi has recovered well.

The sibling rivalry in Wanaka is taking the Wells family to the summit of the sport.

"We are really lucky," said Jossi. "There are times when I am at an X Games and I look across and see my brother killing it and my father supporting us both and think that is awesome.

Byron said: "He has been my support from day one. He always helps motivate me when I am down."

Jossi added: "We are competitive against each other but not more than any other skiers, it is always a positive."

Like a red carpet for the world's A listers, a fresh dump of snow has arrived just in time to lay the foundation for the world's best at the Winter Games.

From today, it's show time for two of the family of natural-born entertainers to shine.

Advice for amateurs - Q+A with Jossi Wells

Explain what freestyle and slopestyle skiing is?

Freestyle is half pipe. So it is a big V ditch down the mountain and skiers and snowboarders head down the mountain and pull all sorts of big tricks and are judged on the quality of their tricks. Slopestyle is pulling tricks off a series of jumps and rails - it's a whole lot of fun.

What advice do you offer?

It's not easy. Be prepared. It takes its toll on the body when you don't get it right. You need to build slowly to get some confidence before you try anything crazy. Confidence comes from the training you do. The best advice I can give is to never give up.

What is the key to going bigger with tricks without too much risk?

The risk is always there. When you are just starting out it is a good idea to try some tricks on the trampoline. Build up confidence and get used to the feeling of the movement of your body in the air. The best advice I can offer is never progress at a rate you're not comfortable with.

How do you know when you are ready to pull off a new trick?

I think about it a lot and go over it a million times in my mind so I am comfortable with what I need to do and I'm in the right frame of mind to attempt it. If I am feeling confident and I have gone over it a few times then I will give it a go.

It must be a great feeling when you land something pretty spectacular in front of a Winter Games crowd?

The ultimate goal is landing that perfect run and hearing the screams at the bottom from a packed crowd. It is a huge rush and I am all about it.

Winter Games

* 100 per cent Pure New Zealand Winter Games is on from August 12-28.

* It features 22 snow and ice sports over 38 events and involves 1000 elite athletes from 50 nations.

* More than 140 of New Zealand's top snow and ice sport athletes will take on the best in the world.

* The 16-day long games also include films, live music and entertainment in Queenstown, Wanaka, Dunedin and Methven.

* The on-snow competition will take place at Coronet Peak, Cardrona, Snow Park, Snow Farm and Mt Hutt with the ice sports taking place at Naseby and Dunedin.

New Zealand hopes

* Freeskier Jossi Wells and Olympian snowboarders Rebecca Sinclair, Mitchell Brown and Kendall Brown.

* Tim Cafe and Benjamin Griffith, both of whom represented New Zealand at the 2010 Olympics, compete in alpine skiing.

* Paralympic gold medallist Adam Hall.

- NZ Herald

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