Games just got bigger

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A change in Winter Olympics selection criteria for ski racing will see more elite international athletes descending on Queenstown’s biggest snow sports event.

Owing to tightened qualifications announced last week, athletes will now be using the Winter Games as one of the last chances to improve their individual world rankings as they chase selection for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

With Olympics chiefs lifting the threshold for skiers aiming at Van­couver, Queenstown’s Winter Games event – rated one level off the top qualifying tier – is suddenly the hotspot for those trying to qualify for February 2010.

Winter Games is classified as a “level one”, or Continental Cup event – one off the highest level of World Cup events, alpine ski racing committee chair Wayne Cafe says.

Ski racing points are similar to a golf handicap – but the best in the world is on zero points and everybody else is measured from there.

“Therefore because of the level of the event, the points that are allocated to the event are much lower on a world basis.

“That means everyone chasing Olympic qualifications in their own countries, as well as Kiwi athletes, will be out to get low points and improve their world rankings.”

International and national ski racing officials, plus Winter Olympics officials, have also “brought the ceiling down to make it a much smaller group of competitors who’ll qualify”.

“You’ve got to be ranked under 500 in the world to qualify. But then also the New Zealand criteria has to be [considered] which is much lower again.”

All this means more international athletes will converge on Queenstown as they fight to improve world rankings before the Winter Olympics.

“It’s an incentive for them to come to these games.

“It should definitely improve entry numbers. We are already expecting a big event anyway and this should guarantee that all the event spots will be filled, for sure.”

Queenstown’s more than capable of accommodating the expected boost in numbers, he adds.

It’ll also be good for top Kiwi ski racers such as the top-two ranked Ben Griffin and Cafe’s own son Tim.
“It presents great opportunities, especially for Tim because he’s on his own mountain and he’ll have the home ground advantage.”

The Winter Games take place at Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Cardrona Alpine Resort, Snow Farm, Naseby and Dunedin between August 21-30.