Cook Islands will be fielding the youngest team in a much anticipated Continental and Olympic Qualifier Canoe Sprint Open event in Australia next weekend.
Sisters Jade and Lily Tierney, Te Aro’a Pekepo and Kohl Horton will take part in the 2020 Canoe Sprint Oceania Championships in Penrith from February 14 to 16.
According to the Canoe & Kayak Cook Islands, this team contains the youngest athletes that will contest the open division qualifier races for the Tokyo Games this year.
Continental quota spots (wild cards) are up for grabs, which has been the pathway to the Olympics for previous Cook Island canoe sprint athletes. However enjoying the event and racing is this team’s priority, which the coaching group believe will be followed by good results.
“More importantly this team will gain valuable race experience as they, including their wider team members, work towards the goal of making a Worlds or Olympics Final, over the next Olympiad (four year cycle),” said Elizabeth Tommy of Canoe & Kayak Cook Islands.
The New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships, better known as the New Zealand Nationals, will also be taking place that same weekend in Cambridge, New Zealand.
Cook Islands will be represented by eight paddlers from Rarotonga and Aitutaki at the New Zealand Nations. They are Genesis Ngatikao, Yannicka Tinirau, Caitlyn Tommy, Manea Ave, Dylan Mussell, Finn Quirke, Ashley Armstrong and Tain Armstrong.
“These athletes are set to continue their age group success in New Zealand’s premiere competition. Most have moved up divisions but have done the training to be competitive with the older athletes. This event always provides great racing, helping our athletes develop towards their future goals within the sport,” Tommy said.
All paddlers are between the ages of 10 and 16 years and have competed at various international events in the past so are no strangers to international competition and canoe sprint protocols.
The team have been preparing since last year and this preparation was culminated with a one-week training camp in Tauranga, New Zealand in December 2019 and a further one week in Rarotonga in January 2020 under the guidance of technical coach Stephen Browne.
Browne, a two time Olympian, travelled to Rarotonga sometimes twice a year to prepare junior paddlers for international competitions.
Stephen stated: “It always impresses me the desire of this group of athletes to self-improve, and just how quickly they do improve in my time working here with them. Being young and with many distractions ahead of them, the challenge is keeping them focussed and engaged in the sport, but the committee and parents have taken good steps to ensure these athletes remain on track; at their choice”.
Tommy said the success of the national teams and the funding of activities to prepare them for these competitions would not be possible without the support of the community and gracious sponsors.
“We are pleased that corporate sponsors Bank of the South Pacific (BSP) and Vodafone Cook Islands continue to believe in us by renewing their annual sponsorship of our teams and activities for 2020.
“We are also thankful to the Pacific Resort Rarotonga who continue to accommodate Stephen when he’s here conducting his technical training workshops for our athletes.”