What started as an intermediate schools sports competition for kayakers is now a solid step on the path to the Olympic Games.
Tauranga’s AIMS Games is helping to select the next generation of Olympic kayakers, with the current youth Olympics selections including five kayakers from the Bay of Plenty.
Rotorua’s George Snook and Rivey Mutton and Tauranga’s Kahlia Cullwick, Finn Anderson and Oliver Puchner join Hawke’s Bay’s Henry Hall for the Youth Olympic Games qualifying event in Spain in April, with a ticket to the October’s Youth Olympics in Argentina at stake.
“It’s because we have got a very strong club here,” says Sue Clarke from Canoe Slalom Bay of Plenty.
“We have three dedicated coaches, and I guess you could say that is their primary job.
We have worked hard on programmes for young kids, particularly starting at the AIMs level.
”Starting youngSelection for the Youth Olympics is tight.
They have to be 14 or 15 year olds, born between January 1 2002 and December 31 2003, making an early start in the sport all the more important.
CSBOP has organised a paddle passport programme to lift young kayakers’ skills levels and confidence, making them effective competitors in the AIMS Games competition, which is held on flat water.
Competitors have to negotiate buoys and perform an eskimo roll to finish.
“We’ve just had our second year, so it’s our third year this year,” says Sue.
“That is paying dividends in terms of getting kids in younger, because this Youth Olympics was a young age group.
“The emphasis is on starting them younger, just like swimming.
They have kayak after school and on the flat water.
“The two kids who have come from Okere Falls (George Snook and Rivey Mutton) actually live right there at the Kaituna course, so they have started young.
“I guess what we are saying is the earlier you start the better.
The results will be in terms of progression through the Youth Olympics junior team.
” Pathway of successThe kayak programme for the Youth Olympics starts with the AIMS Games.
The Youth Olympics are every four years, and there is a junior development squad team.
“So there is a clear pathway of success starting at intermediate level,” says Sue.
“We are really focussed on it here.
We’ve had some champions from here with Luka Jones and Mike Dawson and we have got the next echelon.
“With the senior and junior teams about to be announced, there will be a huge number from this area as well.
”The opportunity to travel to the Barcelona trials came about as a result of an application to the Olympic Solidarity Fund by Canoe Slalom NZ.
The trials include head-to-head sprint racing over a figure-of-eight course, with a right and left turn in a sprint boat.
The trials slalom obstacle race involves about ten turns involving 270 degree turns round buoys.
“This is more challenging for the kids because they had to do both the slalom and the sprint in flat water.
So the sprint boats were a bit foreign to some of them.
“It’s a nice marry up of the two disciplines at this young age.
Who knows what the future might hold for them.
They are getting a taste of international competition in both disciplines.”