PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) – 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 women’s big air. A couple hours later, fellow 16-year-old Nico Porteous tacked on another bronze in men’s freeski 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. New Zealand had a close call Wednesday, when speedskaters Peter Michael, Shane Dobbin and Reyon Kay lost a tight semifinal race to South Korea in the men’s relay, then got blown away by the Dutch in the bronze-medal matchup.
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 program after the 2014 Sochi Games. Among the new faces is development coach Mike Hanley, who focuses on aerial awareness and technical approaches.
Hanley and the rest of the new staff proposed radical adjustments to the way New Zealand manages its extreme snow sport athletes, and kids like Porteous and Sadowski-Synnott bought right in. 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 switch backside 900 to end New Zealand’s medal drought. An Australian who moved to New Zealand as a young girl, Sadowski-Synnott wasn’t exactly a surprise medalist. She also placed 13th in the slopestyle and 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-meter) 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.”