Winter Olympics: First family of freestyle skiing hit the apex and promise more

By David Leggat

Beau James in action at Wanaka. Photo / Getty Images
Beau James in action at Wanaka. Photo / Getty Images

Bruce Wells reckons he and wife Stacey have been "blessed" with their life. They've also been blessed with the sporting talent they've had sitting around the dinner table.

Let's face it; you have four sons, so you would think at least one would be the odd one out.

But not Jossi, Byron and Beau-James Wells, aged 23, 21 and 18 respectively, all in Sochi, striving for Olympic success.

The fourth, 15-year-old Jackson isn't far behind either. Three members of one family as Olympic representatives at the same time is a first for New Zealand.

All home schooled in Wanaka, they have a life that wouldn't be everyone's cup of mulled wine. It's clear from their father the ties that bind are strong.

He's not surprised that they've followed - and in Jackson's case, looks set to follow - the same path.

"Skiing's a whole heap of fun, and if it's fun kids like doing it," he said. "It was available to them as much as they ever wanted and they never seemed to get sick of it.

"Stacey would set work for the day. When it was done, bingo they were off, so there was a real motivation; if I get this done I can go skiing. At 1 o'clock, as long as they'd got the work done the day was theirs.

"They grew up with a philosophy that if you got stuck in you could get on with the things you want to do. They had friends they hung out with, they just weren't at school with them. They probably had the best of it."

Growing up north of Sydney, Wells wanted to be a pro surfer "then at 19 I realised I wasn't going to get there. I couldn't consistently perform every single day. That's what absolutely astounds me about these professionals - they can pull it out and perform at an incredibly high level every single day".

Stacey was at teachers' college, they married, and 30 years ago, when he was 26, they came to New Zealand looking for work at a skifield.

He thought his nursing training could get work in ski patrol. It did "and suddenly the penny dropped; I'm skiing around and being paid to do this".

Then, as Wells put it, they "started a breeding programme".

Jossi and Byron were the first to venture overseas and it took contacts based in Europe and North America to point out to the parents that the two oldest boys had real game. By the time of the third trip, the boys needed support. Everything from servicing of equipment to the mental and technical sides were required. Money was tight, so father became coach in 2004, self-educating on some aspects and has been with them since.

"I always said my job was to do everything so they could go out and do their job. Whatever they needed to do their job well was up to me to make sure it was in place."

Wells says both parents are good watchers.

"It is a scary, dangerous game and the boys have been banged up. But because we've been around them so much growing up we've seen the progression and been part of it. We know they're not silly, they're quite calculated... Things still happen though, and you can accept it."

Jossi has been battling heel injuries; Byron's knees have given him problems; their Olympic preparation has been interrupted, but they accept their lot and get on with it.

"Jossi's heels are not 100 percent at all. We don't talk about it. He's pretty staunch.

"He's got in his head 'I've got a job to do' and everything else is blocked out."

Dad's philosophical about their chances.

"I'm quietly confident, but the results are out of our control. Most of these athletes don't look at winning; if they make the podium they're pretty happy campers."

In his book, any of the 12 who make the slopestyle final could be in the medals; ditto eight or nine in the 12 for the halfpipe final - where New Zealand have three Wells' plus Lyndon Sheehan lining up.

"It all comes down to their execution on the day and the judges really liking what they're seeing."

The journey for winter sports' first family has reached its apex - for now.

- NZ Herald

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