Buzz builds for Games opening in Queenstown

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World-class snow athletes from a record 40-plus countries will be competing at the upcoming Audi quattro Winter Games NZ.

Buzz is building three days out from the Queenstown opening ceremony of the third Games, which has six prestigious World Cup events – more than any other single event in the world.

Among those here and arriving in town this week are Olympic snowboard halfpipe champions Shaun White and Austria’s Torah Bright, plus world number one freeskiers Gus Kenworthy, of the United States, and Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen, of Norway.

Kiwi Paralympic gold medallist Adam Hall will fly the flag for the locals along with world-class freeskiers Jossi and Byron Wells, plus local alpine skier Adam Barwood.

They’re among more than 750 elite athletes all up.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English has been confirmed to officially open the Games alongside Games chairman Sir Eion Edgar after the athletes and flags procession plus a bless from local iwi Ngai Tahu.

The ceremony in Queenstown this Thursday is a free gala event at the Lotto-sponsored Games Village at Earnslaw Park. The festivities at the Lotto Village start from 1pm with live music and special events, followed by the opening ceremony at 5.30pm.

Top Kiwi band Swamp Thing will play a free opening concert at Earnslaw Park from about 7pm.

Games chief executive Arthur Klap says everything is on track and looking good.

“The start lists this year are absolutely out of this world. We have Olympic champions, world champions and national heroes from all major winter sports nations, including the entire men and women’s snowboard halfpipe podiums from Vancouver 2010.

“This is a true testament to the standing of Winter Games NZ on a global stage where it’s now established as one of the top five international events on the winter sports circuit.

“Athletes and coaches all tell us they love coming here and, with the support of our sponsors and funding partners plus the help of more than 400 volunteers, I’m confident this will be the best Winter Games NZ ever. So come down to Earnslaw Park ”

The first event takes place earlier that Thursday morning at Snow Farm near Wanaka where Nordic ski stars including 2010 Winter Olympic gold medallists Justyna Kowalczyk, of Poland, and Nikita Kriukov, of Russia, compete in the FIS Australia/New Zealand Cup Cross-Country Skiing Sprint. All men and women’s podium finishers will travel across the Crown Range to receive their medals during the opening ceremony.