Canoe and kayak sprint paddling has been described as one of the most demanding events of all in the Olympic Games. New Zealand Olympic champion Lisa Carrington’s Supreme Award at the recent Halberg awards was terrific reward for her drive and determination in a tough individual sport.
There’s also a competitive group of young female paddlers coming through the ranks, hoping to emulate Carrington’s achievements. The paddlers were in action at the recent New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships at Lake Karapiro.
Among them was St Margaret’s College Year 11 paddler Pieta Luthi who came away from the nationals with 10 combined individual or crew medals in the combined U16 and U18 divisions, including winning two U18 Oceania Championship medals that the regatta doubled as.
“I probably did about 17 races during the weekend, so it was pretty intense,” Pieta told College Sport Media.
“We are pretty set up for that though - we learn to deal with so much racing in a short time in our training. We do specific sessions to help us with lactic clearance. We have a really good coach, Paul Fidow, who also coaches the junior New Zealand team.”
That said, she prefers the shorter races. “I prefer the 200m, so you can just smash yourself and get it over with!”
Pieta was racing under club colours for the Arawa Canoe Club, which trains at Christchurch’s Kerr’s Reach.
At the nationals, Pieta won medals with (and against in individual races) Olivia Brett and Tilly Pritchard, both at St Andrew’s College, Jess Nisbet , at Papanui High School, and Briar Elliott, at Avonside Girls’ High School.
The three golds that Pieta won were in the U16 K4 200m (with Olivia, Jess and Briar) and U16 K4 500m races (with Tilly, Jess and Briar) and the U16 K2 200m (with Olivia - the pair winning the final by over 5 seconds).
Olivia has also just been selected for the Junior World Championships team travelling to Romania in July this year.
What were Pieta’s favourite races at the nationals?
“Olivia, Tilly and I are the top U16s in New Zealand, so we were fighting it out for the medals, so it was really cool racing hard against my best friends in the U16 K1 200m and 500m races and it ended up the same with Olivia getting gold, me getting silver and Tilly getting bronze.
“Also I’m first year U16 and I was doing a couple of U18 races, and I got fifth in the U18 K1 200m and seventh in the U18 K1 500m. I really wasn’t expecting to do that well and that’s put me up for New Zealand selection in the future.”
What about the influence on your group of Lisa Carrington?
“It is so good to have her in our sport, for women especially, because a lot of people wouldn’t know much about our sport if it wasn’t for Lisa Carrington and her Olympic success.
“She was at the nationals, but she was only racing K2 and K4 events. I have met her a few times, we have a couple of other regattas up north and last season at nationals at the Blue Lake, she presented us with our medals.”
Pieta said she got into canoe racing through a friend, whose dad did multisport.
Her sporting background combining poise and power has put her in good stead.
“I did ballet for 10 years, which gave me good strength and balance. My mum was in the New Zealand judo team, so I did that for a bit. I was dancing while I did kayaking so I had to prioritise and concentrated on kayaking.
“Through kayaking I have started surf lifesaving, I do surf ski and Paul coaches us for that as well. We just had the South Island surf lifesaving nationals, so it was kayaking and surf lifesaving two weekends in a row,”
Pieta’s school St Margaret’s College has a strong rowing pedigree, but she doesn’t row. Although her family including her brother are involved in rowing.
Like rowing, sprint kayaking is seasonal, but there’s little let-up in the training. “Our schedule pretty much stays the same, so we do gym two-three times a week and we go out on the water every day – we’re training 13 times a week and a bit of surf training on top of that.”
Also coming up later this year is a longer race. “There’s a 25km race in Nelson later in the year [25km for girls and 35km for boys]. Over winter we do lots of long paddles, so that’s good to keep us motivated and something specific to train toward.”
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