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New Zealand freestyle snowboarder James Hamilton learnt to ski almost before he could walk. Now aged 19, he’s making his mark on the world snowboard stage. Last year James finished on the podium, winning a bronze medal in his first World Cup halfpipe finals in Italy – the first Kiwi male snowboarder ever to achieve a top three finish. Aided by the Olympic Solidarity scholarship programme, he’s on track to his first Olympic Winter Games in February in Vancouver – and he’s dreaming of big things.
“I want to make the finals and hopefully finish somewhere in the mix – it depends on how I am in the pipe but I just want to do my best,” says James and adds: “I definitely want to be up there. I don’t want to make any big claims about where I will finish, but I’m going to give it my best shot, no doubt about that.”
With his personal background, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games will be something of a homecoming for James: “My dad is from Canada and is a big skiing fan, so I started skiing when I was two-years-old. Vancouver’s Cypress Mountain, where the Olympic snowboard events will be staged, was the first mountain I ever went to, and when we moved to live in New Zealand we kept skiing as a family thing”. He adds: “But the main reason I got into it full-time was because of [indoor snow resort] Snowplanet. That’s ten minutes from my house and that’s where I started. I went up there all the time, became the best that I could and then went down to Wanaka and got selected for the New Zealand Youth team.”
In regard to staying tuned for Vancouver, James is confident: “I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve still got quite a bit of training to go and we know what the competition is like now. We’re looking good – we’ve got all the stuff done that we needed to do so we just need to work on it now. I’ve pretty much got all my tricks and I can get a really good result if I do my tricks and do them well – but it’s about consistency and adapting to different pipes.” He explains: “Sometimes I’m really good in one pipe but then we go to another one and I’m not so good. I can definitely be up there if I can adapt and be consistent, which just comes from experience, because I haven’t been competing that long.”
However, when it comes to dealing with pressure during the competition, James has already found a way to stay focused: “When I compete I don’t think about anything. I get quite nervous, so what I try and do is pretend it’s not a big deal. I just pretend that it’s another training run, another practice run. That’s been working for me. I always land a run in competition just by pretending that it’s a practice run, which takes the pressure off. It’s going to be kind of hard to do at the Olympic Games – but I’m sure I’ll be all right.”
In all this, the Olympic Solidarity programme was a big help to James to prepare professionally on the track to Vancouver: “The financial support adds up to a fair bit in New Zealand dollars. I use it for anything that helps towards my training and competition. For example, travelling to and from competitions – if we didn’t have the scholarship everything would just be coming out of our own pocket. We get a lot of things funded – the major flights and most of the accommodation is paid for, but there is still so much when you are travelling that just pops up out of nowhere, which definitely drains your wallet. The programme is a great thing and it’s so good to be a part of it.”
Olympic Solidarity is an IOC organisation, and the body that ensures that athletes with talent, 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 (NOCs)’ 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. Besides individual scholarships for athletes, there are also “Team Support Grants” to support ice hockey and curling teams likely to qualify for the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.
The total budget for the 2009-2012 Olympic Solidarity quadrennial period amounts to USD 311 million. Within this budget, USD 61 million is earmarked to provide support to athletes.
Learn more about Olympic Solidarity
Learn more: 2009-2012 "Where the action is"