When Callum Gilbert was 12 he started paddling after school.

A couple of years later he got a taste for paddling competitively while at Tauranga Boys' College, sparking a long love of canoe slalom as a sport.

Today, the Tauranga man now living in Rotorua is one of two paddlers named to represent New Zealand in canoe slalom at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Olympics newcomer joins Luka Jones, who secured New Zealand's first silver medal in the discipline, in the New Zealand team.


Alexandra paddler Finn Butcher has been conditionally selected as a non-travelling reserve.

The canoe slalom athletes were named at an event at Wero Whitewater Park - the home of Canoe Slalom New Zealand's High Performance Centre - in Auckland today.

Tokyo 2020 will be the fourth Olympic Games for 31-year-old Jones, while Gilbert will be making his Olympic debut after giving up his job as a software engineer three years ago to chase his sporting dreams.

"My employers were great but I wasn't able to give 100 per cent to my training while I was there so I made the decision to resign. Looking back on it now it was a good decision and it's been awesome being able to fully commit to the sport," Gilbert says.

"It's an amazing opportunity to go to an Olympic Games and I've been really fortunate to have gone to so many," Jones says.

Gilbert will compete in the K1, while Jones will compete in both the K1 and C1 events.

"I'm over the moon, it's been a long time coming and a lot of work has gone into this so I'm so stoked to have it made official," 24-year-old Gilbert says.

Bay of Plenty's Luuka Jones at the Oceania Canoe Slalom Championships last year. Photo / Getty Images
Bay of Plenty's Luuka Jones at the Oceania Canoe Slalom Championships last year. Photo / Getty Images

"Competing in both events adds another element to the Olympic Games and it's an awesome opportunity to earn a medal," Jones says.


"My goal is the same as it was at Rio 2016 and that's to prepare really well and put down a performance that I can be proud of. We're working really hard and I'm in a really good place in my paddling career, from a performance perspective."

Both athletes are originally from Tauranga but have strong ties in Rotorua. Jones was part of a Rotorua-based sports academy launched in 2007 and Gilbert now lives at Okere Falls, 20km north of Rotorua.

"When I was 12, I got into an after school paddling class then, when I attended Tauranga Boys' College, a teacher picked a few of us to attend nationals. From there, I loved it and that was it."

Gilbert had a strong year on the world tour in 2019, with his top result fifth at the London World Cup.

He plans to head overseas to train and compete in further World Cups while Jones will also be based overseas from mid-April.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith says Jones and Gilbert provide an exciting mix of talent.


"With Callum also selected there's a great mixture of experience and exciting new talent in this team so we can't wait to watch these athletes compete in Tokyo."

Jones is coached by former British paddler Campbell Walsh while Gilbert is coached by Paul Macdermid of Massey University.