Paddler’s dream shot

Cambridge paddler Nick Collier flew to Europe this week to have a crack at qualifying for the Olympic Games.

If he succeeds, he will celebrate his 21st birthday in Paris where the Olympics start on July 26.

Cambridge paddler Nick Collier enjoying a coffee at one of his favourite local cafes, Daydream Espresso, last Tuesday. He is now in Europe, where he will have a chance to qualify for the New Zealand Olympic team. Photo: Steph Bell-Jenkins.

“It’s been a pretty incredible 12 months,” the driven athlete said.

Collier made history in Krakow, Poland, last August when he became the first kiwi paddler ever to win a medal at an U23 Canoe Slalom World Championship event.

He has since been selected for the New Zealand senior men’s and New Zealand U23 canoe slalom and kayak cross teams.

He is in Europe preparing to compete at World Cups in Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland, and the U23 Canoe Slalom World Championships in Liptovsky Mikulaš, Slovakia.

The second World Cup in Prague doubles as an Olympic qualifier and he will need a podium finish to win a spot in New Zealand’s Paris Olympics team.

He expects it to be tough but believes he’s in with a chance.

“Fortunately, at this race you can only compete if you haven’t already qualified a spot … which means the cream of the crop won’t be competing,” he said.

“It’s certainly a challenge, but it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”

Originally from Alexandra in Central Otago, Collier moved to Hamilton in 2021 after winning a Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship to study at Waikato University. Two years ago, he moved to Cambridge because it was an ideal training base, close to Okere Falls, near Rotorua, and Canoe Slalom New Zealand’s high performance training centre in Auckland.

The 20-year-old may be the only high-performance canoe slalom athlete here, but he feels like the Waipā town is behind him, “big time”.

“You couldn’t beat the Cambridge community in terms of a supportive environment,” he said in an interview with The News last week.

“High performance is a high-pressure environment; you’re only as good as your last race, so the pressure is always on to perform and then outperform that performance. But there’s such a density of athletes here in the Waikato, here in Cambridge, that we all get to, I guess, share these experiences together and we can relate to each other.”

Local athletes, he says, “lean on each other and help each other to thrive”.

“This morning I caught up with Bryony Botha, an Olympic track cyclist, and there would be countless stories like that, where I’ve met up with these people that have been there and done it and are continuing to race and perform at that highest level – and to hear their stories and to chat with them really makes me feel a part of this community,” he said.

He’s also met sprint track cyclist and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Sam Dakin, who shared valuable mental health advice.

“Sam created the Slow coffee company and essentially the message behind it is, in such a fast-paced, dynamic environment that we’re living in today, sometimes you just need to slow down.”

For Collier, catching up with other high-performance athletes at local café Daydream Espresso and spending time outdoors are favourite ways to do that.

But right now, his focus is on trying to qualify for the Paris Olympic Games.

“Having a community behind me, watching me compete on the highest stage, would be like nothing else,” he said.

Nick Collier working out in the Waikato River. File photo, Steph Bell-Jenkins.

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