Ben says COVID-19 threw the team a real curve ball with a big impact on their ability to get relevant training and competition experience.
“However, we needed to focus on what we had rather than what we didn’t have. If I had to summarise what drove our success it was threefold: the amazing talent of the athletes, fantastic systems and support of Snow Sports NZ, and HPSNZ innovation projects which gave us just enough of an edge to snare success from countries with greater funding and training opportunities.”
The 2021 domestic winter season provided the team with optimal opportunities to train the ‘tech’ disciplines such as giant slalom and slalom at Cardrona but the small size of ski areas in New Zealand made it difficult to viably find training venues for the speed disciplines without becoming prohibitively costly. Ben uses an interesting analogy to explain. “It would be like giving a race driver a Mini for training but expecting them to race and push the limit in a F1 car.”
Alpine skiing is a high-risk sport. Ben says it is competition that drives athletes to push the boundaries and it was competition that was lacking in the team’s build up.
“Because we knew our training build up was limited, we put considerable focus on the mental preparation of athletes. Alia Bojilova of Legacy Group NZ used her military experience training for missions where unexpected situations may occur to work with athletes who might find themselves in positions they may not have been adequately prepared for.”
While COVID-19 placed some severe limitations on the team’s build up to Beijing, Ben says there were a number of positives they were able to exploit.
“We were able to stay healthy and train safely in the COVID-free South Island while many of our competitors, especially the Europeans, had their preparation impacted by illness and restrictions. This time at home allowed more time to maximise strength and conditioning gains, and utilise innovation projects such as Corey Peters’ sit ski and the VR simulation of the race venue, which along with the mental preparation were key factors in our success at Beijing.”
Ben pays tribute to strength and conditioning coach Matty Graham saying his dedication to work in this area was the single biggest contributing factor to the team’s success.
“Para sport is often defined by an athlete’s limitations. Matty works tirelessly to give athletes the physical capability to do what is asked of them on the snow. A bonus of the overseas travel restrictions was it meant our athletes could spend more time with Matty – and it paid big dividends.”
HSPNZ Performance and Technique Analyst, Cameron Ross, spearheaded the team’s innovation projects which were, according to Ben, significant contributing factors to their success.
“For example, many coaches felt it would be impossible for an LW12 athlete to win the Downhill and Super G events. But the work done on the kamm tail on Corey’s sit ski allowed us to carry greater speed through the flatter section at the end of the courses. Corey still had to pilot the machine but given the nature of the Beijing course I can say with absolute certainty that without the world leading aerodynamic package provided by HPSNZ, medals in those events would have been highly unlikely.”
When asked for his one stand out moment of the Games, Ben says without hesitation “the incredulous look the Norwegian coach gave me when Corey beat his athlete in the downhill event”.
Team performance: Four medals from the three-strong Para Alpine Skiing team with a gold and silver to Corey Peters in the Downhill and Super G respectively and two bronze medals for Adam Hall in Super Combined Standing and Slalom Standing.