Biggest day in New Zealand snowsport history opens window to brighter future, writes David Leggat.

Snow Sports New Zealand had one of those days money can't buy thanks to a pair of laid back and big-hearted kids.

There they were with mutterings of "Coberger, 1992" starting to rumble around them but the New Zealand medal winter ended at 26 years, with the double bronze success of Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Nico Porteous, two 16-year-olds in the Big Air and freeski halfpipe respectively in PyeongChang on Thursday.

"It is one of those seminal moments, whether two shot put medals, or two sailing medals in a day," said SSNZ chief executive Marty Toomey, doubtless still pinching himself at what he'd seen.

Toomey is an unabashed admirer of these young whizzkids of winter sports, with their funny language and unusual take on life at times.


"They're different from other sports. They put their bodies on line every time they throw themselves off one of those jumps.

"They're quite laid back and relaxed so when you talk to them they've got a different air about them. They're really supportive of each other.

"You have a bad day and you hurt. They're not out for five minutes, they can be out for five months. They know how thin the line is between performing well and staying healthy. They do support each other hugely. Their friendships are very strong."

Witness Sadowski-Synnott's emotional meeting with her New Zealand team mates after nailing her bronze.

"I'm always with those guys. They are so supportive and I'm so grateful to have them," she said.

Not cute words for the microphones either; genuine, heartfelt gratitude from a bright, switched on teenager for the environment she's in.

Now that Annelise Coberger is no longer New Zealand's sole Winter Olympic medallist, for her slalom silver way back when. The ground has shifted significantly for SSNZ. So now the question is: how to capitalise on this?

"It's huge and what it'll do is keep snow sports in front of mind for people," Toomey said.


"It's massive for sport, massive for youth sport. The number of kids out there, 12 and 13, ripping around a skifield who now may think 'I'm the right kind of age to really give this a crack'."

In late July, Cardrona will host the world junior snowboard and freeski world championships. And before you think 'it's just kids', "there could well be 10 Olympic medallists there because of the age of these guys. All under 20 strutting their stuff. That's phenomenal and gives us another chance to put it in front of the public."

So let's cut to the chase.

SSNZ received $2.050 million in funding last year, which dropped to $2 million this year, the extra $50,000 being to help with the cost of qualification for PyeongChang.

So time for sleeves to be rolled up at HQ in Wanaka, calculators to be dusted off and minds to get ready to present their case to High Performance Sport New Zealand later this year for, as a minimum, maintaining the funding level. Better still, they have a royal case for an increase.

"I would hope that it's viewed positively," Toomey said.


"We've been lucky, we have received good levels of support because we keep really good information on how good these guys are, so we been able to show them the tricks they can do.

"Part of it is about retaining the faith, but we should be able to retain levels of funding, if not increase it."

Where should the focus be looking ahead four years to Beijing in 2022?

SSNZ intend working with the ski areas around the country who have grassroots programmes, and making sure the quality of coaching in those programmes is strong.

"We need to make sure we deliver enough competitions so the kids can show what they're capable of. Sometimes it's not the results in competitions, but you see what some kids have got.

"Then bring them into an environment with a little more pressure and start to nurture them. Work with the parents and coaches, maybe at 12 or 13, and by 16 you might have a dangly [medal] round your neck."


Toomey, however, is wary of burdening young teenagers with heavy doses of overseas experience. They still need time to relax over summer months. "You don't want kids going super hard for 10 months."

SSNZ have the only progression landing bag - ensuring high-flying athletes a safe landing - in the Southern Hemisphere at Cardrona. That is a significant buy. It was bought with a grant from Sport New Zealand and "is critical in terms of what happens".

Sitting in classrooms around the country now are potential Winter Olympians, specifically those with a snowboarding or freeski bent. Alpine skiing is a tough gig against Europeans in particular, who have skied to school from the age of five. But the other disciplines are newer; there's far less ground to make up.

To be fair, winter sports administrators do recognise they need to grasp the nettle.

"Most definitely," Toomey said. "These opportunities present themselves once every four year - or in our case once in 26 years.

"These kids are going to be superstars, they'll be inspiring plenty of kids. We have to make sure kids continue to rub shoulders with them.


"If we don't grab it now we'll have failed."