Four curling athletes have been selected to the New Zealand Team for the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games.
Hunter Walker, Will Becker, Lucy Neilson and Zoe Harman will compete at the Games from January 9th to 22nd in Switzerland and neighbouring France.
Team Captain Hunter Walker says he’s thrilled to be selected and loves the strategy involved in the sport.
“It’s very physical so you’ve got to be really fit to play which is part of the fun. It’s also great to compete internationally and make friendships all over the world.”
Above: Hunter in action
“My family has a strong curling history. My great-grandfather and grandmother both played for New Zealand and my bother Hamish Walker has played for the NZ Men’s Junior team and the NZ Men. I started playing when I was about 7 years old at the Maniototo International curling rink in Naseby.”
Teammate Will Becker (Ngāi Tahu) is also from a strong curling pedigree. Will is the nephew of curler Sean Becker, who was the New Zealand Team Flagbearer at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games.
“My family’s been curling for three or four generations now so I was pushed into the sport by my family but I really enjoy it,” said Will.
“It’s pretty cool to be doing what my family’s done and succeeded at. I saw my uncle the other day and he congratulated in person which was nice.”
Above: Will Becker
The athletes all hail from the Maniototo Area in Central Otago. Lucy, Zoe & Will attend Maniototo Area School, while Hunter recently graduated from Otago Boys.
Team coach Nelson Ede says a huge number of local youths are involved in curling thanks to the accessibility of the Naseby Indoor Curling Rink.
“Central Otago is very much the heart of curling in New Zealand and we have a strong curling history in Maniototo,” said Ede.
“The kids get right in behind it. They see their peers doing well and see the opportunities the sport has to offer and think I’d like to have a go at that.
“We’re really pleased with these selections, it’s a real opportunity for the athletes to compete on the world stage and learn lots. It should set them up for further success.”
During the first week of the Games the four athletes will compete as the New Zealand Team. Following that competition each individual athlete will be paired with an athlete of the opposite sex from another nation, as part of the Mixed Doubles Event which will be contested during the second week of the Games.
“I’m quite excited about the mixed competition, I just hope we can understand each other,” said Will.
NZOC CEO Kereyn Smith extended her congratulations to the curlers.
“Well done to these athletes for all the work you’ve put in to make it to this point. We look forward to watching you compete in Europe in January.”
Rebecca Pitts and Jayden Bishop have been selected as non-travelling reserves.
Around 20 New Zealand athletes are expected to compete at Lausanne 2020. 11 New Zealand athletes competed at the previous edition of the Winter Youth Olympic Games, with four of those athletes going on to compete at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.