Junior Australian sailors Elyse Ainsworth (WA) and Thomas Cunich (QLD) have been selected onto the 2014 Australian Youth Olympic Team.
The two teenagers made waves at the Sail Brisbane Regatta over Easter in the single handed Byte dinghy class.
Under pressure to deliver on the Brisbane seas against their Oceania rivals, the duo sealed their selection to the Team heading for Nanjing, China with gusto.
Fifteen-year-old Ainsworth, who trains between the South of Perth Sailing Club and Fremantle Sailing Club, finished third overall and first in the girl’s Oceania Byte CII Championship.
“At first I couldn’t believe that I had won, it felt surreal. A lot of people came to congratulate me and hug me- that’s when it kind of sunk in what I had done,” the year ten student said.
“As soon as I finished Sail Brisbane I instantly started the countdown. To be part of the Youth Olympics and represent Australia is a great honour and I hope I can do everyone proud that has supported me.”
Ainsworth has represented her country internationally before but the Youth Olympic Games, which is widely acknowledged as a pathway to the Olympics, is something different altogether.
“It means everything,” Ainsworth said of the trip to China this August.
“It was something that I had set out a year in advance. Every time I think that I’m going to Nanjing to compete I get nervous and excited all at once. I believe this is going to be an important stepping stone in my sailing career.”
Queensland’s Cunich has also represented Australia at the World Championships and had to overcome four fellow Optimist World Championship sailors to make the Nanjing Team.
“It is pretty huge- a big achievement,” Cunich said. “I feel really fortunate that I have the opportunity.”
“After watching the Beijing Olympics I saw what an incredible event it was and all I can imagine is that Nanjing will be just as good.”
An inspired teenager, Cunich went to the same school as London Olympic gold medallist, Mat Belcher- The Southport School. The pair also shares a home club- Southport Yacht Club so they have a few occasions to cross paths.
“He (Belcher) even joined training sessions when I was in the Optimist and he gets involved with all the juniors at the club. He has given me tips around the boat park at regattas.”
“I believe and hope that this is another step on the road to becoming an Olympic sailor,” Cunich said.
The Australians will compete in fields of thirty fleets at the Youth Olympic Games in the boy’s and girl’s one person dinghy events. Another 20 athletes contest the boy’s and girl’s windsurfing events- but Australia has not qualified for these races.
In total 100 sailors will fight for four gold medals at the second edition of the Youth Olympic Games.
It is a wonderful opportunity for Cunich and Ainsworth to test the Olympic waters. Ainsworth describes it as “so exciting!”
“My biggest goal will be to represent Australia at the Olympics,” says the girl who has seen Australian sailors shine at every Games in her lifetime, triple gold and silver in London the most recent example.
“I definitely believe that it will be an amazing stepping stone to advance my sailing career and prepare me for further international competitions in the future,” Ainsworth said.
Australia’s two representatives at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games- Madison Kennedy and Mark Spearman, have made the most of the opportunity.Spearman won gold at the 2012 ISAF Youth Sailing World Championship and is now a member of the 2014 Australian Youth Bridging Sailing Squad while Kennedy went on to finish second in the girl’s fleet at the 2012 Laser Radial Youth World Championships.
The 2014 Sailing competition begins on Day 2 of the Nanjing Games at Jinniu Lake Sailing Venue.