New Zealand teenage athletes win country's first Winter Olympics medals since 1992

Associated Press

SNOWBOARDING - New Zealand finally has some winter Olympics medals to their name, thanks to two 16-year-old superstars.

Associated Press |

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Nico Porteous wears the New Zealand after winning a bronze medal in men's freestyle skiing halfpipe.

The Kiwis crushed it at the Olympics on Thursday thanks to a couple of kids who are barely old enough to drive in New Zealand.

First, 16-year-old snowboarder Zoi Sadowski-Synnott ended New Zealand’s 26-year medal drought with a bronze in the women’s Big Air. A couple hours later, fellow 16 year-old Nico Porteous tacked on another bronze in the men’s freestyle skiing halfpipe.

“I’m so proud to be a Kiwi right now,” Porteous said. “So proud.”

The country’s only previous Winter Games medal was a silver won by Annelise Coberger in women’s slalom at Albertville in 1992. 

So the pressure fell on the shoulders of New Zealand’s next generation of snow stars, and they answered the call.

The medals are a payoff to changes the Kiwis made to their ski and snowboard programme after the 2014 Sochi Games. Among the new faces is development coach Mike Hanley, who focuses on aerial awareness and technical approaches.

Hanley radically changed the way New Zealand manages its winter sport athletes, and kids like Porteous and Sadowski-Synnott bought right in.

Nico soars through the air.
Photo: Reuters

Another youngster, 20-year-old Carlos Garcia Knight, qualified in the top spot for the men’s snowboard big air event Saturday and could add another medal.

“It was the next generation that we saw just really open to change,” Hanley said. “They were OK with being scared and they knew they had to break from the old in order to really change the game and get some medals for New Zealand.”

In the first-ever Olympic Big Air event, Sadowski-Synnott stomped out a double wildcat and a switchback 900 to end New Zealand’s medal drought. An Australian who moved to New Zealand as a young girl, Sadowski-Synnott could compete for some gold medals at Beijing 2022.
Porteous, meanwhile, wasn’t projected anywhere near the podium in an event usually dominated by Americans. He stunned even himself with the best run of his career, putting down five double corks in his second run — he’d never done more than three in a halfpipe in his life.
“I can’t actually remember my run,” he said. “I had so much adrenaline that I actually had no clue.” The 5-foot-4 (1.63-metre) skier from Hamilton, New Zealand, didn’t attempt any tricks on his third run. He just cruised to the bottom of the halfpipe and waited for his medal.
“I had nothing left,” he said. “That was me. That was all I had left in the bag. I hope people didn’t see that as me being cocky because I really had nothing left. That was the best run I’ve ever done in my life.”
Zoi celebrates after an incredible run.
Photo: Agence France-Presse

Edited by Ben Young