At Rio 2016, women’s K1 silver medallist Luuka Jones gave New Zealand its first Olympic medal in canoe and kayak slalom history. To continue this momentum, hopes are pinned on the next generation competing at the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games (YOG) this October (6-18th).
Fourteen and fifteen-year old Kahlia Cullwick and Finn Anderson have been selected to represent New Zealand in Argentina in the individual canoe slalom events following strong results at the qualification event in Barcelona last month.
Tauranga-based Anderson explains his four-month preparation is already underway.
“It’s gonna be a steady build-up as we get closer to the event. At the moment it is a lot of self-training because many coaches are away. We train an hour a day but it’s gonna be more.”
While Anderson confesses having stopped other sports to focus on canoe, fellow canoeist Cullwick has decided to continue to pursue her other sports right up until the Youth Olympic Games.
“I do dancing three hours a week. I have danced since I was four and like canoeing I really enjoy it. I just have the time for doing everything.”
The two teenagers see the YOG as an opportunity to turn a corner in their competitive career.
“It is just a massive international competition that’s just a really cool thing to be part of. It will definitively be the best event we’ve ever competed in” marvels Cullwick.
Above: Kahlia Cullwick making her way in the whitewater
While the YOG can provide an ideal pathway to the Olympic Games, both canoeists remain realistic about the gap separating them from the top level. Anderson aims to carry on doing still more slalom.
“I want to try to get into the national top squad and compete overseas. But there is a lot of work to get to the Olympic Games in canoe slalom.
“A lot of people try to get there especially the old guys –19-20 years-old– kind of getting up there now, catching up Luuka (Jones) and Mike (Dawson).”
Olympians Jones and Dawson are considered idols by the young canoeists. Also hailing from Tauranga, 31-year-old Mike Dawson was keen to support to Anderson and Cullwick.
“I’d just say enjoy the opportunity to travel to an amazing city, and get to experience the Olympic spirit at such a young age. Then get after it in the race.”
Above: Olympians Luuka Jones (right) and Mike Dawson (left)
Placing 10th at Rio 2016 and a bronze medallist at the last World Championships in France, he says that in spite of his success at elite level Dawson nonetheless admires the achievements and determination of the Youth Olympic athletes.
“It’s really inspiring for me to see the level that these guys are achieving at such a young level.”
His message of support will definitely give Anderson and Cullwick a boost in their preparation ahead of their journey to Buenos Aires.
However both canoeist refuse to put themselves under pressure and will keep a balanced approach to their sport. Cullwick, who studies at Mt Maunganui College, says they are conscious of the importance of continuing with their studies in order to paddle at an elite level in the long term.
“I will really try to continue both school and canoe. Because if you give up on school then it will be slightly harder as you’d depend on sponsors to finance your competitions.
“But at the moment canoeing is very fun so I’ll just keep doing it as long as I can.”