Final day of Winter Games NZ underway


Freestyle skiers will battle it out for the last medals of the 2013 Queenstown and Wanaka-based Winter Games NZ today (Sunday).

The final day of the 11-day programme includes the FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup Slopestyle at Cardrona.

In Queenstown, the third and final race of the Games’ cyclocross series is held at Wynyard Bike Park in Fernhill, while the official closing ceremony kicks off in Wanaka from 2pm.

Yesteday, snowboard legend Kelly Clark has added another medal to her haul.

Clark – the most successful snowboarder of all time – recovered from a fall to take down the FIS World Cup halfpipe at Cardrona.

The men’s event was won by 14-year-old Japanese rider Ayumu Hirano.

It was Hirano’s first appearance at a FIS World Cup event and Olympic gold medallist Clark’s 61st career win.

The 30-year-old ended the women’s series of first runs eleventh out of the field of 12 after failing to land one huge trick.

But Clark then landed a frontside air, backside five, frontside 1080, cab 720 and a stalefish on a stunning second run to score 89.50.

“You think of it as an opportunity,” Clark says.

“It’s easy to have things not go right and all of a sudden change your plans.

“For me it’s more important to be internally motivated, to stick to the plan regardless of what goes on around me.

“I thought, well hey, this is exactly what can happen at the Olympics – it is what happened to me at the Olympics last time!

“I just thought I could be conservative today and go for a podium finish, or I could rally and think of it as an opportunity and that’s exactly what I was able to do.”

China’s Cai Xuetong was edged out to silver with 85.50 after winning her earlier semi-final, while American Gretchen Bleiler hung in there for bronze with the highest first run score of 85.25.

Ayumu Hirano used his awesome speed to land some of the biggest jumps ever seen in Cardrona’s halfpipe.

His first run score of 92.25 was only threatened by teammate Taku Hiraoka’s second run which included the first 1260 in this year’s comp but was still only good enough for silver, scoring 91.75.

Swiss rider Christian Haller was delighted to spoil a Japanese whitewash, edging out Ayumu Nedefuji for bronze with his second run of 82.50.

Looking slightly stunned by his maiden World Cup victory Hirano says: “I was aiming to be on the podium in this competition so I’m really happy about being in first place.

“This is my first World Cup and I still need to compete well this season to qualify for the Japanese team.”

Curling gold medals for Japan, Australia

Japan and Australia took home the gold medals from the Audi Quattro Winter Games NZ curling tournament late Friday.

Japan won the Men’s gold medal match 10-3 from New Zealand, who took silver. Korea picked up the bronze medal as the losing semi-finalist.

A final stone hit from Australia secured the Mixed Doubles gold medal 7-6 from New Zealand “A”, and China cleared out from New Zealand 10-4 to win the bronze.

The two silver medals for New Zealand is the best result for the home side in the three Winter Games tournaments to date.

Since losing two of their first three games in the round robin, the Japanese Men improved through the week and put in an impressive error-free performance to record their eighth successive win.

A well-taken 3 to Japan in the fourth end put them in control of the match, and NZ skip Peter de Boer offered the concession with his last stone still to play in the ninth.

“We are very happy to win here in Naseby,” says Japanese skip Yusuke Morozumi. “It is a wonderful event, and very important for us in our lead-up to try and qualify for the Olympics.”

Kiwi skip Peter de Boer was also looking ahead. “We’ve had 12 good games of top-level curling,” he says.

“Obviously we’re disappointed to lose the final, but we know we can play well enough, we’ve beaten all the teams here at least once this week, so this has been a really valuable tournament.”

The Mixed Doubles final was close throughout, and with her final stone Australia’s Eve Bèlisle could see just enough of the NZ “A” stone she needed to hit for their second point of the end and their 7-6 win.

Playing partner Steve Johns says: “I think we stepped up our game from the round robin.

“This was the first time we’ve played together, so there it took a bit of time for us to get used to each other’s play. And learning how to support each other when it goes well, and when it doesn’t go well.”

Maniototo brother and sister Sean and Bridget Becker won the silver as New Zealand “A”.

Bridget described her week as crazy, when the team defaulted their first match as she was with her young son in hospital early in the week and her baby daughter also developed bronchitis a few days later.

“We did really well to get where we did,” she says.

“Of course we’d have preferred the gold. Sean played amazingly all week, he’s a great partner.”

The pair won the bronze medal two years ago, and when asked if she’d like to come back in 2015 to try for gold and complete the set, she replied with a laugh, “I’d love to – if they’ll have us!”

The Japanese, Korean and New Zealand Men’s teams will meet at a number of tournaments in the next few months before the 8-team Olympic Qualifying Event in Füssen, Germany.

The top two teams from there will fill the final places in the 10-team field for next year’s Sochi Winter Olympics.

Closing ceremony tonight in Wanaka

Band Tahuna Breaks play the closing ceremony at the Lotto Village Wanaka tonight.

The event kicks off at 2pm with live music before the FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup Slopestyle, a fireworks display at 5.30pm and Tahuna Breaks from 7pm.