January 2022, Articles

Nic Cavanagh on the Beijing build-up

Insights from Nic Cavanagh, Snow Sports New Zealand Chief Executive in the build up to Beijing

Thirteen of New Zealand’s top talent in snow sports are either in or on their way to China ready to kick off the event they’ve had firmly in their sights for four years - the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games. The Paralympic Winter Games follow closely with three New Zealanders in action.

The Kiwis’ results on the world stage have been historic in recent years, garnering increasing media attention as the Winter Olympic Games and Paralympic Games approach. Arguably the 2022 team is stronger than any other Snow Sports NZ has ever sent. Chief Executive Nic Cavanagh, who has been embedded in the programme for around a decade, spoke to us recently about what’s contributed to being in this position.

“When I started we were aspiring to be medallists but we’ve transitioned. We genuinely have world-class athletes consistently delivering podium performances now,” he says. He points to building a quality network of support alongside those athletes; including coaches, operational support and performance support.

Based in Wanaka, their excellent relationships with local ski resorts is another key factor. Nic mentions NZ Ski at Coronet Peak providing alpine ski racer Alice Robinson exclusive access to a daily training environment and Cardrona Alpine Resort’s commitment to ensuring the same for Park and Pipe athletes and our Para Alpine athletes.

Nic describes investment from HPSNZ as a key enabler in their progression to become a podium sport. “As we’ve progressed as a high performance organisation, and our athletes have delivered, that’s been recognised and assisted through more valuable support.”

“But it extends a lot further than funding – the provision of quality Performance Support through avenues such as medical, physio, strength and conditioning and performance analysis to name a few – that’s also enabled us to be in the position we’re in now.”

Snow sports athletes constantly push limits for progress, and Nic says injury risk remains their biggest challenge. HPSNZ’s innovation team support, and dry land training facilities and equipment such as trampoline and landing bag, help manage the risk vs reward balancing act. “The correlation between progression, being in the safest possible environment, and decreasing days lost to training from injury, has been critical in our success.”

COVID-19 has presented unique challenges but Snow Sports NZ and their athletes have shown a determination to not let it derail them.  “In action sports to progress you need to be pushing the envelope, therefore our team are experts at mitigating risk.”

“In dealing with COVID-19 our strategy has been ‘the main thing is ensuring the main thing is the main thing,’ and the main thing is performance.” says Nic, explaining that it’s been important to remain focused on ensuring their athletes have the best performance environment to train, progress and compete and they manage COVID-19 within this environment.

In 2021 around 20 athletes and staff were travelling the world competing in order to qualify for Beijing, using protocols, bubble-living and social distancing. “In 2021 we managed to have possibly our best year with world champions, pinnacle event podiums and numerous athletes ticking qualification boxes. The silver lining has been seeing our athletes galvanise a sense of being ‘Team New Zealand’ rather than being individual New Zealanders travelling and competing.”

Just days out from competition in Beijing Nic says he’s excited.

“I’m an incredibly proud Kiwi and I love sport so seeing people deliver their personal best in any sporting realm really drives me. The drive and the passion to be part of history, and enabling athletes to do that, is the fuel that keeps us running at the moment.

“At the same time – we still don’t know what Beijing is going to be like. There’s a huge amount of uncertainty, despite the best planning efforts, and it’s almost like you want to hurry up and get into the Games, so that our planning phase ends, and our delivery phase begins.”