Tauranga kayakers Anna Higgins and Callum Gilbert have been named as part of a 180-strong squad of top young New Zealand athletes to take part in the 2013 Australian Youth Olympic Festival (Ayof) in Sydney from January 16-23.
Unfortunately, due to a recent injury, Cole O'Connor Stratton from Tauranga Boys' College, who won the Secondary School Sportsman of the Year award at the recent BOP Sports awards, is unable to compete in the two classes he was selected for K1 & C1M.
But this has opened an opportunity for another local paddler in Gilbert to join the team.
Gilbert has just finished Year 12 at Tauranga Boys' College and has embraced the opportunity to compete at this level on the Sydney 2000 Olympic course in Penrith.
Higgins, a Tauranga Girls' College student, won the top female paddler trophy at this year's NZ Secondary Schools championships, and was recently awarded a Baytrust scholarship as well as a Supreme Sports award at her school sports prizegiving.
The Australian Youth Olympic Festival offers a unique opportunity for aspiring Olympians to compete in an environment similar to the Olympic Games.
Many top New Zealand athletes including Lisa Carrington (K1-200 gold, London 2012), Blair Tuke and Peter Burling (sailing 49er, silver, London 2012), began their careers at the Ayof, so no doubts the athletes named will benefit from the lessons learned at earlier editions of the Olympic Festival.
The young athletes representing New Zealand at the 2013 Ayof will compete against top junior athletes from 24 nations in athletics, three-on-three basketball, badminton, canoe/kayak, cycling, diving, golf, swimming, gymnastics, shooting, triathlon, rowing, weightlifting, wrestling and rowing.
Village living alongside athletes from different codes and nationalities will be part of the Olympic-style experience for the young athletes, preparing them for future multi-sport games.
The Ayof was initiated by the Australian Olympic Committee following the success of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The inaugural festival was held in January 2001 and takes place every four years, alternating with the IOC-run Youth Olympic Games.
The Ayof is fully funded by the Australian Olympic Committee and is held under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee. In 2013 around 1800 athletes aged between 13 and 19 years will compete in 20 sports.
The full NZ team for Canoe Slalom
Coach Aaron Osborne (Coachforce Officer Canoe Slalom, Sport BOP); Manager Lou Higgins (Tauranga); Athletes: Anna Higgins (Tauranga), Jessica Bailey (Wanaka), Finn Butcher (Alexandra), Marcus Norbury, (Alexandra), Callum Gilbert (Tauranga), Tommy McDowell (Nelson).