Gold and sand in their toes

By Kelly Exelby

Tauranga athletes struck gold on Sydney beaches, while Penrith whitewater was tinged with bronze as the Australian Youth Olympic Festival wound up.
Beach volleyballers Sam O'Dea and Sam Wallace-Boyd fought off a tough challenge littered with intriguing rivalries in their final to claim gold.
Otumoetai College star O'Dea once again teamed with Tauranga Boys' Wallace-Boyd, now studying in Auckland, but the irony came in the final where they beat Sam's younger brother, Ben, and another Tauranga Boys' product, James Thomas.
The 21-14 21-13 result at Sydney's Maroubra Beach came amid resounding silence, after O'Dea and Thomas beat the top Australian duo in the semifinal.
"The final was a bit flat but I guess the whole thing was pretty good overall," Sam O'Dea said. "There's not many home-crowd New Zealand fans here. It would have been good to play Aussies but it's still good."
The senior O'Dea and Wallace-Boyd beat a Norwegian pairing in the other semifinal.
His younger brother downplayed the rivalry in the final.
"We've played a lot together back home in New Zealand so we knew each other really well. We knew we were going to have to play well to beat them and I think we did that," O'Dea said.
Over at the Penrith whitewater slalom course, Tauranga canoeists claimed the only medals from the big Kiwi contingent, with Shaun Higgins winning bronze from a strong international C1 field in a thrilling finals race, after Chinese paddlers filled four of the top five places after qualifying.
Higgins just scraped into the final in 10th place, but posted a quick early time to spring into medal contention.
He was leading with two paddlers to go, but Australian Ethan Hodson set a blistering time of 1:17.53 with only one penalty, and China's top paddler, Zhiqiang Teng then produced an even quicker time to walk away with the gold in 1:13.37.
Ben Gibb and Bradyn Church also captured bronze in the C2, putting together a blistering qualifying run to lie second behind top British pair Rhys Davies and Matthew Lister, before picking up a 50 second penalty in the final.
Tauranga's Ella Nicholas represented Oceania, and was denied a silver medal as she just clipped the pole with her buoyancy vest on gate 16, incurring a 2 second penalty, pushing her into fifth behind Australia, China, Japan and Great Britain.
Te Puke's Nikki Whitehead finished in 10th, with Jane Nicholas 12th and Bridget Woudberg 17th.
Tauranga's Callum Gibb, who is still only 15, finished the best of the Kiwis in seventh in the men's K1.
The other Tauranga paddler in the New Zealand team, Shaun Travers, was 11th in the C1.
Swimmer Nathan Capp made the final of the 1500m freestyle, finishing sixth in 16:14.02 and also helped the New Zealand 4 x 200m relay team to sixth in their final.
Highly promising local smallbore shooter Fiona McLeod was disappointed with her ninth-placing in the 10m standing air rifle,al though she was hampered by an ankle injury.
In the three-position match, McLeod was leading in after the prone component, but dropped to fifth after standing and sixth following her kneeling shoots.
An ankle injury also put paid to the ambitions of top sprinter Mariah Ririnui, who pulled out on the eve of the week-long competition.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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