Top school paddlers heading for Bay

The next generation of Olympic paddlers will line up on Bay of Plenty rivers next week for the NZCT New Zealand Secondary Schools whitewater championships.

Canoe Slalom NZ had two athletes, Luuka Jones and Mike Dawson, go to the London Olympics last year, with both coming through the national schools system for Otumoetai College and Tauranga Boys’ College respectively.

That’s had an immediate flow-on to the younger age groups, says event coordinator Sue Clarke, whose daughter Ella Nicholas also represented the Cook Islands at the London Games.

"We’ve had a huge number of entries from all over the country for the secondary school events.

"Luuka, Mike and Ella have given them a clear pathway to follow, right to the highest level at the Olympics, and there is a large pool of seriously talented paddlers coming through." 

Wanaka’s Jess Bailey (Mount Aspiring College) will compete in the NZCT New Zealand Secondary Schools whitewater championships next week.         

The week of paddling begins today with the national schools freestyle competition on the Waikato River near Taupo, before moving to the Tarawera River in Kawerau from Tuesday to Thursday, where national titles for canoe slalom and downriver racing will be decided.

This year’s championships feature an 18-strong contingent from the Australian national talent squad, while more than 20 New Zealand schools will be represented.  

South Island powerhouses Dunstan High School are sending up a 29-strong squad and they’re expected to do battle with several Tauranga schools for the overall honours.

In the individual categories, Wanaka star Jess Bailey (Mount Aspiring College) will be a warm favourite in the senior girls after grabbing a silver medal at the Australia Youth Olympic Festival earlier in the year, although Tauranga Girls’ Haylee Dangen is the current Oceania under-18 champion.

New Zealand junior team member Callum Gilbert (Tauranga Boys’), equally adept in both C1 and K1, will face strong competition from schoolmate Alex Hawthorne, Otumoetai College’s Andre Sperling and Nelson’s Tommy McDowell (Nayland College) who also competed at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival.

In a further boost to the burgeoning kayaking programme, recently appointed national coach Aaron Osborne will also attend the championships, building a squad towards next year’s Junior and under-23 world championships in Sydney.

Rotorua-based Osborne has been a national representative for a number of years and has also studied sports science and coaching at Massey University.  

He’s also employed part-time as a Sport Bay of Plenty Coachforce officer, helping up skill paddling coaches in the region.

Many of the top juniors will stay on in Kawerau and compete in the national senior championships, to be held over Easter Weekend.

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