Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Trump that...wood chopping legend Jason Wynyard on beating his American ban

Jason Wynyard is a victim of his own success. The extraordinary Kiwi wood chopper with plantations of world titles was so dominant in the United States that foreigners were banned from major competitions there six years ago.

It meant a radical change of life for 43-year-old West Aucklander, who works for Stihl as a head technician while still successfully pursuing world titles.

Wynyard has been close to unbeatable for 20 years and when he wasn't winning, his fellow Kiwi - the late David Bolstad - usually took the crown during a golden era for Kiwi wood chopping.

Wynyard, who is competing in the Kumeu show this weekend, chats about life before and after America, along with his hopes and concerns over son Tai's NBA basketball dreams.

America closed the door on you in 2011...
I take losing really hard, which is how I've always improved myself, but this was completely different.

Travelling there in our winters was the best part of my life and the main portion of our income. So it was a massive blow, and I'm still struggling to get over it. I'm very lucky working for a company which understands I still want to be world class. It's easy to be bitter, and I was for a while.

You compete in and help organise the Kumeu show.
We've got a couple of international competitors coming - Stirling Hart from Canada and Martin Komarek from the Czech Republic, who was third at the world champs. We help them with flights, put on accommodation...it's about pulling in favours really. The Australian relay team wanted some individual events as well so we had to decline them.

What is your major trophy count?
I hate being in the limelight...ten world USA Timbersport titles, eight world championships, 247 world titles in different disciplines, I still compete in the lumberjack world championships (in Wisconsin) and have won that 16 times.

Wow...that is a staggering count. What are your favourite and least favourite disciplines?
Standing block is my favourite...it's recognised as the most dynamic and difficult. The pole is certainly not my favourite. I'm afraid of heights. Sometimes I have trouble getting up a ladder. When you combine that fear with swinging an axe, you get the sensation I'm having up there. We generate power from the ground, and when you take that stability away I find it un-nerving. But I can blank it out pretty well.

You like to point out how technical your sport is...
Technique is 80 per cent of it. You have to address at exactly 45 degrees, and your hits are within a one or two millimetre window. It takes a lot of muscle memory and practice.

Who is the finest technician you have competed against?
David Bolstad. He had the whole game, the mental side, a magnificent technique, he was flawless with the axes he used and prepared, he was an amazing competitor.

Do you miss him?
In our younger days we butted heads, and the rivalry went back to our fathers (Pae Wynyard and Sonny Bolstad). David would stop at nothing to win...he would walk up and say "you're not going to use that axe, are you?" It wasn't nasty, but something to put doubt in your head. That wasn't really my game. Later in life, we had a better understanding and realised we had pushed each other to where we ended up. It took a long time though...our relationship changed in 1996 when we beat the Aussies for the first time in 40 years. On paper, we should have been thrashed, but we knew we had to pull together. We hardly spoke before that. I really miss him. He's a great loss to the sport...irreplaceable.

Who is the craziest guy you have competed against?
There have been a few...an Australian called Dale Ryan. We were at a formal dinner when the World Championships first started in Germany, and someone brought in a modified chainsaw with a big pipe, so it was really loud. Dale grabs it and slices open this pumpkin in the centre of the table. He gets up to all sorts of antics.

Tell us about your son Tai, who is pursuing his NBA dream with the famous college programme at Kentucky.
Tai is quite gifted - he can do anything. He can look at things and replicate them. He was always good at athletics and even wood chopping which is very difficult to learn. Karmyn (Jason's wife) was a good basketball player, she had a scholarship in Alaska, but Tai found a love for basketball quite late, at about 12. He was the youngest Tall Black ever at 16 and got spotted by one of the Nike global people. We had 20 US colleges offering scholarships. The training at Kentucky is incredibly intense - I got to see that first hand - and it is awesome to see him in the fold there with future NBA stars. To reach the peak you have got to put your heart and soul into it and I don't see that with Tai yet and there is only a small window. I think he is on track, and we've had really good feedback from the coaches. They love Tai and think he can do it but he needs to put that extra effort in outside of training.

You defend the world title in Norway this November...
I'd like to compete for another five years, 10 if I can. But the body hurts so much - back troubles are the big issue. My training is predominantly gym-based now. I'd never set foot in a gym - I used to train by replicating the events six days a week, eight hours a day. Wood choppers didn't believe weights were of any benefit. When I started with Stihl, I didn't have time to swing the axe. I met with (rugby coach) Gordon Tietjens, who was running a sevens camp, to get some direction. He is an inspirational man. Through him I met trainers, a sports psychologist...I haven't looked back really. My programmes are now written by Adam Storey, the Blues rugby trainer (and Olympic weightlifting coach). It's a juggling act with work, but I had two personal bests at last year's world champs. My mental game is as strong as ever.

- NZ Herald

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