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Hopes For Airbag Trials To Become Reality At Olympic Half Pipe

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

It's been a frantic search for snow to build a decent Olympic halfpipe but New Zealand's five competitors will get to debut on the finished product in the next two days at Cypress Mountain.

With the assistance of fellow Kiwi and Cardrona halfpipe designer John Melville, a crew has been busy throughout the build-up and during the Games depositing and shaping the snow required.

Snowboarding coach Tom Willmott says from what he can gather, it's been a struggle.

"They've had phenomenally challenging weather conditions; it rained for about 15 days before the first day of training which means the snow is soft and not bonding well, making it rough and bumpy. They've got their work cut out to produce a quality halfpipe that will allow the standard of riding expected. Conditions have been inconsistent but it's the same for everybody.

"It was tough given the snow warmed up quickly and shrank fast. Hopefully the weather will be cooler in the next couple of days but we're readying ourselves for less than ideal conditions. However it handicaps the top end of the field, bringing everyone closer together."

The riders will get five or six airs in one run - the judges look at how high they get out of the pipe, the difficulty of the run and the smoothness of executing tricks. So someone could do a difficult run but if they're flapping their arms around looking sketchy it's not going to score as well as a rider who's smooth and graceful throughout and demonstrating control.

What of the New Zealand participants? Here is Willmott's present summary of the squad.

New Zealand team flagbearer, Juliane Bray: "She's going great with sound results in a World Cup event in Calgary and the Canadian Open where she made the final."

James Hamilton: "He's been in camp in Michigan, working on some new moves into an air bag. If he has the chance to bust them out it'd be exciting.

Mitchell Brown: "He won back-to-back events in Calgary in January and had his best World Cup result with eighth in Stoneham [in Quebec]."

Rebecca Sinclair: "She's had some niggling injuries of late but she's ready to go."

Kendall Brown: "She won the Canadian Open a week ago with 10 out of 30 Olympians in the field."

The men's event is first up tomorrow just after 10am (NZT) before the women's on Friday.

Hamilton's trained with the security of an airbag to practise what he hopes will be a new trick he can land on the day.

"It's called 'the double cork' and was introduced just before the Olympics," he says. "There's a lot of risk if you don't get the whole way around so the airbag's boosted my confidence of pulling it off. It will depend on the conditions; the pipe's really warm at the moment so it's bumpy and hard to ride."

Willmott says the move could pay dividends: "We used it in a spring camp in October. The risk is higher with the double cork manoeuvre, so the airbag, which is 20 square metres when blown up, is the safest way to build up to doing it without risk of injury. It's. We were so impressed with the training that we hired it again for a Michigan camp in January and shared the costs with a few other national teams."

Of the other New Zealand athletes in action: Katie Calder is in the cross-country skiing individual sprint classic from 7.15am and Blake Skjellerup competes in the 1000m short-track speed-skating from 2.25pm.

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