Peril lurks under every snowflake
The chance of death is high. With adrenal glands the size of small Pacific islands, they take to the sporting arena armed with blades, boards and spikey poles. They are the gnarliest of the gnarly, sliding and slipping their way to towards a podium finish - if the ice doesn’t get them first. Who are these crazy wizards of winter?! No seriously, who are they??
Every four years the Winter Olympics jumps onto my TV screen and scares the hell out of me. First a confession; the only ice I have ever mastered has been in a glass of gin. With this in mind it’s not surprising I have no idea who most of the athletes are, even the 21 Kiwis. Why is this when you could argue that a skier on the pants-wetting ski jump or snowboarder in the half pipe is just as incredible to watch as Usain Bolt? New Zealand, why do we not take winter sport more seriously?
I wonder if our enthusiasm levels are in direct correlation to the number of medals won? It’s always a downer when you can count your country’s entire medal tally with your nose. It’s sad that many of us could probably name every player in the Super Rugby teams but would struggle to recognise our top speed skaters. Like a sporting Halley’s Comet, we forget all about it until the pretty white pictures appear on the telly every four years. It’s not as if we don’t get snow and good quality at that, but I get the feeling, as a nation, we treat it more as a hobby which is also what our athletes have been accused of.
Four years ago in Sochi some in the news media criticised the Kiwis for having the attitude of well, Kiwis and taking it all a bit easy. The team seemed untroubled by its lack of success and looked to be enjoying a holiday at the taxpayers’ expense.
Nothing riles a fan more than seeing an athlete lose and still look they’re having a good time. I believe the protocol is to be disappointed but not to wallow in self- hate or cry, because that will also make staunch fans uncomfortable. Personally I don’t blame them for looking happy. I too would be thrilled I was still alive after some of these events.
Our current crop of winter wonders may have learned the PR lessons from the past. You also get the feeling our national reps have set the bar higher. Chef de mission Pete Wardell is saying the things fans love to hear such as ‘‘no-one remembers who got fourth’’. It was not long after snowboarder Carlos Garcia Knight and speed skater Peter Michael finished top five after briefly being in medal contention.
He knows the team could be judged more harshly by the funding authorities than the public so the team must perform. And there are more chances to come. Annelise Coberger wasn’t supposed to win silver back in 1992 but she did. Ice is slippery stuff and pressure can be lethal.
New Zealand is still on the learners’ slope when it comes to understanding what it takes to be a winner on snow and ice. In the northern hemisphere, woolly- jumpered Yodas have passed their expertise and knowledge down the generations.
Teams of athletes train with and against each other, growing in skill and confidence. Even Britain, the land of gentle slopes, has given its skeleton riders the latest version of the revolutionary skin suits that have helped the cycling team dominate the last three summer Games. Kiwis have high expectations on water, a second medal might just build belief in our skills on snow.
I for one am on board. After a few days watching the PyeongChang action, I have decided to switch my allegiance from the summer to winter Olympics.
I may excel only at filling ice trays but I’m in awe of people who do bats..t crazy things to push boundaries and win medals. It’s the living life on the edge attitude that sets winter athletes apart. I have been happily bamboozled by terms such as cab 720, McTwist and things called backside triple corks, which I can assure you has nothing to do with mulled wine, I checked.
So turn up the air con and embrace those winter chills.
Carlos Garcia Knight got close to a medal in the slopestyle.