New Zealand has selected six K1 athletes for this year’s canoe slalom World Cup series, including the returning Jack Dangen. The 19-year-old retired from the sport two years ago to start an apprenticeship but has returned to the water. He’ll represent New Zealand alongside Mike Dawson and Finn Butcher in the men’s stakes, while Olympic silver medallist Luuka Jones headlines the women’s team. She’ll be joined by Courtney Williams and Jane Nicholas.
New Zealand’s skeleton racer Rhys Thornbury has given himself a fighting chance of a medal going into the final stage of his Winter Olympics campaign. The British-based Thornbury pulled out one of his best performances in the first run at the Olympic sliding centre, clocking 50.98s, and followed it with 51.03s, giving him an overall time of 1m 41.93s. That places him eighth in the 30-man field with two more runs to go.
Thornbury trails South Korean Yun Sung-bin, the leader and favourite, by 1.58s. Russian Nikita Tegubov is second and Latvian Martins Dukurs, a five-time world champion and twice Olympic silver medallist, is third with 1m 41.23s.
Thornbury has a good track record on the circuit in PyeongChang, but admitted there were nerves as he approached the start.
“I tried to be as least nervous as possible, but coming out of the changing rooms down on to the ice, the nerves really hit me, but I think in a good way,” he said.
He was happy with his first run but Dukurs “blew me away and left me scratching my head” with his second run of 50.38s. Still, Thornbury, who took leave from Britain’s Royal Air Force to prepare for the Olympics, knows he can be as quick as most in the field. And a medal chance?
“It would probably take something special but I’m not going in to stay in eighth. I guarantee some people will make mistakes and maybe it’s a mix of me doing better and others making mistakes. Anything can happen and I know I’ll climb the rankings if I do what I know I can.”
New Zealand’s youngest team member, 16-year-old alpine skier Alice Robinson, finished 35th in the giant slalom at the YongPyong Alpine Centre. She clocked 1m 16.66s in the first run of her preferred event and a faster 1m 14.53s in the second run to be just over 11s behind gold medal winner Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States. Shiffrin trailed Italy’s Manuela Moegg by 0.20s after the first run but fought back on the second run to clinch gold by 0.39s.
“Maybe I was trying a bit too hard to go full throttle, not thinking enough about the technical aspect, paying too much attention to going fast instead of being tactically smart,” Robinson said.
She will contest her lesser discipline, the slalom, today.
Duncan Campbell was 32nd out of 39 in his first seeding run of the snowboard cross, failed to finish his second run and was fifth and last in his quarter-final to bow out.
Meanwhile, Tongan cross-country skier Pita Taufatofua joked that he has two primary goals when he competes in his first Winter Olympics: Don’t hit a tree and finish before they turn off the lights.
The medal podium is far from the mind of the famously shirtless Tongan, who qualified for the event despite having taken up the sport less than a year ago and having spent less than 12 weeks of his life on snow.
The 34-year-old Taufatofua said his long-term goal in PyeongChang was to inspire others from the South Pacific.
He said he knows he won’t medal today, “but in four years, someone from Tonga might. In eight years, someone from the Pacific might”.
He said kids who watch will have “access to something they never knew existed before”.
Rhys Thornbury says he will need “something special” for a medal.