Olympic Review catches up with Olympic Solidarity scholarship holders as they target London 2012. Ella Nicholas, an ambitious canoe athlete, has London 2012 firmly in her sights as she aims to become only the sixth woman from the Cook Islands to compete in an Olympic Games.
What was it like growing up in the Cook Islands?
I was actually born in New Zealand as my father left the Cook Islands to go to university. My family regularly travels back to the Cooks as my grandmother and many aunts, uncles and cousins all live there, either in Rarotonga or Aitutaki – the two main islands. I love the sea, snorkelling, the lagoon and the coconut palms. The people are so friendly and family is what really matters, so I am lucky to live between the two countries and have a blend of both cultures.
How did you start canoeing?
My brother started at school when he was 12 and I just followed along. My school was very supportive of a large group of girls getting into the sport, which also helped.
How has the Olympic Solidarity programme helped you?
It has made it possible for me to keep paddling and competing, striving towards my goal of taking part in the Olympic Games. Without this support I would not be able to combine study and paddling. I am taking a year off university next year to train full-time in preparation for the Games.
What do you use the funding for?
The funding goes towards the costs of my coach, gym membership and expenses, travelling to training and racing. I have been to Europe twice this year for World Cups and World Championships.
Who do you train with?
In Dunedin, where I am studying, we have formed a training group with New Zealand team member Shaun Higgins, and my brother Bryden and sister Jane who are very supportive. My coach Aaron Osborne and I use the internet to review my progress and get together for white water sessions when we can.
What does your training programme consist of?
My training programme is written by Aaron. I usually do two training sessions per day and it changes around a lot depending on what phase of training I am in and when races are. Usually I do three-week blocks of the same format followed by one week with more rest. Because I live in Dunedin I don’t have regular access to a white water course, otherwise this would make up a lot of my programme. Instead,I have to do mostly flatwater training and if it is too cold I use the kayaking ergo at my gym, along with cardio sessions and weight training. In winter we try to mix it up and my coach gives me the option of swimming and biking as well.
How do you combine training with your studies?
It’s pretty tough. I have been learning to balance them for such a long time that now I seem to keep more on top of things. However, my course is full-time and has a lot of content and class time so I do find it quite hard. I try to keep a good routine and use all my spare time wisely – which doesn’t always work! This year my studies seem to have been the lower priority and I have had to miss some classes due to training and racing. However, right now I am in the lead-up to my end-of-year exams, so training has to move a little further down the priority list.
What are your targets for 2012 in London?
Now that New Zealand and Australia have qualified, I have to make the Oceania Continental spot in February, but as the Cook Islands was the only other Oceania country at the World Championships, I should earn the spot. After my exams in October, I will be taking a year off university to train full-time. All I can ask of myself is to do my best. I want to have a really good build-up and feel like I have prepared the best I can. I want to go into the race confidently and perform to the best of my ability. I also hope to have a lot of fun in the process because, at the end of the day, everyone is there to win and not everyone can. It is important that we all take something positive from the experience, regardless of whether we win the gold medal or not.
What excites you most about the chance to compete at the Olympic Games in London?
In primary school, when the Olympic Games were on, we had whole weeks dedicated to being immersed in everything Olympic. We learnt the history of the Olympic Games and we were taught that they are a way of unifying the world and putting people from every walk of life on an equal platform, to be compared by nothing other than sporting ability. I am excited to become a part of this history and being able to contribute to something that makes our world stronger. Also, to be in the company of the greatest athletes from all over the world will be an honour.
Who were your Olympic heroes when you were younger?
New Zealand athletes Sarah Ulmer (cycling) and the Evers-Swindell twins (rowing). Although neither competed in sports that I loved, they were still great role models and amazing women.
How do you communicate with fans, friends and family? Do you use social media?
Social networks are my main way of communicating with friends. When I am away I call my family on the computer. I do have a blog but I am not very good at updating it. I am investigating getting a website too.
Olympic Solidarity is the body that ensures that talented athletes, regardless of their financial status, have an equal chance of reaching the Olympic Games and succeeding in the Olympic arena.
It is responsible for administering and managing the National Olympic Committees’ share of the revenue from the sale of broadcasting rights to the Olympic Games.
Working in particular with the most disadvantaged NOCs and their Continental Associations, Olympic Solidarity uses this money to develop a range of assistance programmes.
Within its total budget, USD 61 million is earmarked to provide support to athletes for the 2009-2012 Olympic Solidarity quadrennial period.