Hard work gets yachtie trip to China
Marlborough's Alastair Gifford, from the Queen Charlotte Yacht Club, is one of three sailors selected by the New Zealand Olympic Committee to attend the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games at Lake Jinniu, Nanjing in China.
The 15-year-old will compete in the boys' single-handed class from August 16-28, sailing a byte CII. Just one spot per country is available in each class at the Youth Olympics so, to earn selection, Gifford travelled to Brisbane at Easter and competed in the qualifying event. Not only did he qualify for the Games in a boat he was relatively unfamiliar with, he also won the regatta.
"It's pretty cool," said Gifford, whose place in the NZ Olympic team was confirmed yesterday.
The byte CII is similar to a laser, a class of craft more familiar to New Zealanders. But with the byte being more popular in Europe and Asia it will be used for the Youth Olympics.
The decision to try and qualify for the Olympics was made following Gifford's return from the optimist world championships. At that stage the byte was very much a mystery to him.
"I found about the Games on the final day at opti worlds and did a bit of research on the byte," he explains. "It's way different to an opti. I've sailed other boats since then so it's more a transition from a starling and a laser to [the byte]. It's like a laser but it has a track in the middle and fully-battened sails, that's a bit different."
Gifford will travel to Auckland for high-end training with members of the NZ youth world champs training squad at the weekend.
Although he has competed at the opti worlds, the Youth Olympics will be the biggest stage he has sailed onto.
"I've never sailed in China but I expect the winds to be light. It's on a man-made lake . . . a lot like the Marlborough Sounds, where I've sailed a lot."
His parents, Angela and Richard Gifford, say their son is very self-motivated.
"He needed to get a place [in Brisbane] to qualify but he did more than that - he won it," Angela said. "We are very proud."
Ian Neely, Yachting New Zealand Talent Development Manager said, "These sailors are currently campaigning in youth classes and this event will provide them with a taste of what the Olympic Games are all about. It's a really great opportunity for them and I know they are very excited."
The Kiwi sailing team: Gifford, boys single-handed class, Byte CII (Queen Charlotte Yacht Club); Finn Croft, boys windsurfer, Techno 293 (Manly Sailing Club and Takapuna Boating Club, Auckland); Coral Headey, girls windsurfer, Techno 293 (Tauranga Yacht and Powerboat Club, Tauranga).