Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

NZ women forced into slopestyle semifinals

Kiwis have mixed results on the challenging course for snowboarders and face fight to make medal round.

Rebecca Torr was the best-placed of the Kiwis after finishing sixth in her heat. Photo / AP
Rebecca Torr was the best-placed of the Kiwis after finishing sixth in her heat. Photo / AP

New Zealand's four-strong female snowboard contingent will battle it out in the slopestyle semifinals tomorrow after missing out on direct passage into the finals on the opening day of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Kiwi snowboarders Christy Prior, Shelly Gotleib, Stefi Luxton and Rebecca Torr were among the 24 riders who took to the slopes yesterday in the opening competition of the XXII Winter Olympic Games.

It is the first time the snowboard slopestyle event has featured in the Olympic programme.

The New Zealanders had mixed results on the challenging course at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, with Torr the best-placed of the group after finishing sixth in her heat.

Torr's top score from her two runs was 70.75, while Prior was seventh in her heat with 70.50, with Luxton eighth on 59.75. Gotlieb had a forgettable day after falling in both of her runs (she recorded scores of 18.00 and 30.75) to place 11th in her 12-strong heat.

With only the top four from each heat advancing directly through to the finals the Kiwi competitors will have to do it the tough way in tomorrow's second-chance semifinals if they are to make it through to the medal round.

Despite this, New Zealand winter performance programme director Ashley Light was pleased with the day's results, calling it "a good first hit out for the team".

"While it would have been nice to go straight through to finals we have another day to fight it out in the semifinals.

"We've built some good momentum here today," said Light.

Slopestyle is a judged event and riders are awarded points as they descend a course made up of a series of rail features at the top and three large jumps towards the bottom.

Judging criteria are based on overall impression including difficulty of the run, amplitude (how high athletes go in the air), execution (how well tricks are performed and the variety of manoeuvres), progression (new and exciting manoeuvres), and combinations (putting difficult manoeuvres into sequence).

Riders therefore must make a tactical choice between landing a safe run or risking a more technical run in the hunt for the highest scores.

Prior, the first New Zealander on the course, opted for the smaller side of the jump features while incorporating technical tricks such as a "wildcat" into the run in the hope that she would be rewarded with a high enough score to progress to finals. But her scores of 67.50 and 70.50 were only enough to see her place seventh.

"I'm just really happy to put down two runs in this environment and build some confidence," said Prior.

Indicating that there would a change of strategy for the semifinal competition she added, "for the semis I'm excited to step it up to the big side [of the jumps]".

After completing his flagbearer duties in the opening ceremony for the Games overnight, speed skater Shane Dobbin, will be in action early tomorrow in the 5000m event at Adler Stadium.

Dobbin said he will be using the 5000m event as preparation for his favoured 10,000m next week.

"Opening with the 5000m metres gives me a chance to acclimatise and prepare for the 10,000 metres.

"I'll be looking for a top 15 performance and if I achieve that I'm on track for the 10k," said Dobbin.

- NZ Herald

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