An Otago-strong contingent of New Zealand snowsport athletes are busy putting their training into practice at the Gangwon 2024 Winter Youth Olympics.
New Zealand will be represented by 22 athletes at the Games — a full 12 of whom call Central Otago or the Upper Clutha home.
The Games are being held in the mountainous Gangwon province of South Korea which will host almost 2000 young athletes aged between 14 and 18 years old.
For Wānaka snowboarder Lucia Georgalli, 17, the Winter Youth Games were an ‘‘insane’’ milestone.
‘‘I’ve been thinking about it for years — it’s pretty cool to be here and representing New Zealand.’’
She carried the New Zealand flag in the opening ceremony on Sunday night (local time), alongside Ida Valley curler Jed Nevill.
‘‘It was an honour to be chosen to represent New Zealand,’’ Georgalli said.
She will compete in snowboard slopestyle and big air at Gangwon after becoming the first New Zealander to be crowned snowboard slopestyle Junior World Champion last year.
Georgalli grew up with fellow New Zealand team members who now stand on the world stage with her.
Knowing and connecting with the other Olympians had helped foster a team bond, she said.
‘‘We were out playing rugby with everyone — it felt really homely.’’
Staying in the Olympic village meant they could connect with international athletes, Georgalli said.
‘‘[We’re] meeting a bunch of people from around the world.’’
She was looking forward to vying with other snowboarders and seeing where she stood at the Youth Olympics.
‘‘I’m really excited to be competing and riding on a new course — the rails and jumps look really nice.’’
In the future, Georgalli would like to continue competing around the world, eventually at the Winter Olympics.
Maniototo Area School principal Melissa Bell said it was exciting to see local young people achieving great heights.
‘‘We’re incredibly proud and it’s great to see students from such a small school do things on the world stage.’’
She knew the school’s athletes had been incredibly diligent in their preparation for the Games.
‘‘They’ve worked incredibly hard to get to where they are — there’s been a huge amount of fundraising and work.’’
The Maniototo had a proud history of sporting success and the Youth Olympians had been well looked after by the community.
‘‘I know they’re surrounded by great coaching, and great support and great mentoring from more experienced players as well,’’ Ms Bell said.
‘‘It’s great to see that culminate in this great competition which I’m sure they’re really going to grow from.’’
Mt Aspiring College principal Nicola Jacobsen agreed and said the Upper Clutha community were incredibly proud of their athletes.
‘‘I can only imagine the incredible amount of hard work that it takes to be able to be in a position to compete at that level.’’
It sent a message to young people in the Upper Clutha and New Zealand — by holding on to their dream and working hard, success was possible.
‘‘When we set up to achieve something big, we think about the big goals, the big idea,’’ she said.
‘‘The steps that you take to get there are much harder to imagine.’’
Mrs Jacobsen said the community was fortunate to have many snowsport athletes who could model this success for others.
Both principals were looking forward to celebrating their pupils’ achievements when they return after the Games finish on February 1.