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[February 26, 2006]


(New Zealand Press Association Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)Wellington, Feb 27 NZPA - New Zealand should narrow its focus to several core sports and target them for Winter Olympics medals over the next decade, team chef de mission Tomas (crrct) Huppert says.

New Zealand's biggest Winter Games team of 18 ended their involvement in Turin yesterday with skier Mickey Ross finishing 31st of 97 in the men's slalom.

Skeleton racer Ben Sandford was the best New Zealand performer over the Games fortnight, finishing 10th of 27.

Despite a modest list of results and the early horror of having $US15,000 ($NZ22,963) worth of officials' equipment and clothing stolen on the journey to Italy, Huppert said the New Zealand team ``punched above their weight'' against the superpowers of winter sport.

He was confident New Zealanders could be on the medal podium in 2010 and 2014, but said that wouldn't necessarily happen with a bigger team spreading the net wider.

``I'd rather see quality than quantity. I don't think the number is as important as the quality,'' Huppert said.

``What New Zealand has to do is decide what sports it wants to have at the very top level internationally then put the funding and structures in place.

``It would be crazy for us to try every sport just because the sport's available. We've got mountains, we've got snow, I don't think we need to spend a lot of money on capital structures.''

Huppert observed that eight or nine international teams, including several medal winners, had trained in New Zealand before the Games which showed the quality of facilities here.

The recently increased support of funding body Sparc and the New Zealand Olympic Commission had given athletes a better opportunity.

``There's a move afoot to put the summer and winter sports on level pegging and that will be a huge boost to winter sports in the future.

``The framework is being set up, we can start planning now for 2010 and the results will be different.

``There's no doubt in my mind that New Zealanders can win on the international stage.

``I would like to think 2010, top-10 and 2014, podiums. That's realistic.''

New Zealand was one of 64 countries to go medal-less in Turin.

Sandford, 26, got the most praise from Huppert.

``His run was very, very good. There's a very good opportunity for him, if he does things well over the next four years then he's going to be a podium finish person.

``He's a very mature young man, he's got his eyes squarely on the future and he's got it all planned out for 2010 already... that's the one that stands out the most.''

The biggest disappointment came when the men's four-man bobsled team crashed in training at 130kmh, ruling them out as driver Alan Henderson broke a rib and saw Aaron Orangi and Steve Harrison denied a chance to compete.

Skiers Nicola Campbell and Erika McLeod both failed to finish the giant slalom course in heavy snow and thick fog on Saturday, both crashing about the two-third point in their runs.

Wanaka-based skier Mickey Ross showed character to recover from a fall in his first run yesterday to finish 31st in the slalom.

Ranked 60th in the world, Ross had targeted a top-30 finish.

The New Zealand team were set to march at the closing ceremony overnight and return to New Zealand early on Thursday.

NZPA WGT mg mjd

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