A summer of hot competition and white water has seen two young Nelson canoe slalom athletes claim medals and push for national honours in the New Zealand selection race series.
Following successful tours to Australia, Tommy McDowell of Nayland College and Nelson College's Blake Hornblow competed against a national field in Kawerau in January and Mangahao in early February.
The Mangahao races were part of the ICF-ranking Oceania Championship. McDowell took home the silver in the Junior C1 men's category and also made the junior team in C1 men's to represent New Zealand at the junior and under-23 world championships in Slovakia in July.
Hornblow missed selection, and both athletes were overlooked for the junior team in K1, however the pair still have another year ahead of them in the junior ranks.
While canoe slalom requires competitors to navigate downriver, the Nelson paddlers have had an uphill struggle in their chosen sport. A supportive community in Nelson helps where it can with training and the development of facilities, though they are incomparable with purpose-built centres.
McDowell and Hornblow were the only juniors considered for selections this year that are not from the two centres, Canoe Slalom Bay of Plenty and Central Otago Whitewater, supported by existing coaching and training programmes. Their ongoing success is testament to both their skills and drive.
Last month, McDowell, the 2012 under-16 national champion in K1 and C1, represented New Zealand at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival.
He raced in Penrith on January 17, a day that recorded the highest temperature since 1939, reaching 48 degrees at the racing site. He made C1 semifinals and finals in good form, but a mistake in the final's run put him in eighth place overall.
"A lot of countries brought out some really good teams, like China has been getting heaps better," said McDowell. "I was pretty happy to make the finals, it was a good race. It was cool to see what the Olympics could be like. We got to meet all the other sports [codes] and cultures. It was an awesome experience."
Hornblow was selected to the New Zealand development squad which travelled to Eildon, Victoria, in January. He competed at the Australian Secondary Schools and National Championships.
Hornblow earned two medals in the under-18 K1 teams' event: A team gold in the Australian nationals and silver medal in the Australian secondary schools champs with team-mates Daniel Arnold and Alex Hawthorne.
"I'm pretty happy with that, I would have liked to do better in the individual events, but it was good to get there in the teams.
"It's really motivating to think about the races coming up. In the secondary schools and nationals, I would like to get a top five finish in the individual K1."
The pair are now building toward the New Zealand secondary schools white water kayaking competition on the Tarawera River in Kawerau next month.
- © Fairfax NZ News