Kayaker stays firmly focused on Olympic goal

Alexandra kayaker Finn Butcher competes in the Prague World Cup earlier this year. Photo: Martina...
Alexandra kayaker Finn Butcher competes in the Prague World Cup earlier this year. Photo: Martina Wegman.
Alexandra kayaker Finn Butcher is continuing to aim high as he prepares for his next round of training and competition and works towards a goal of Olympic selection. Pam Jones catches up with the 22-year-old while he is on a break in Central Otago and talks to him about life in the international arena.

Q You have just finished 35th in the under-23 Canoe Slalom World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia. How was the event, and what is the competition like over there?

I was pretty disappointed that I hit a gate in the semi-finals and incurred a 50-second penalty and didn’t achieve a higher ranking after having initially nailed it, but this is a big learning year for me and I’m just trying to nail down my execution and accuracy. The competition in Europe is pretty fierce. It’s a lot different from New Zealand in terms of the volume of competitors and events and the quality of the field. Some of their kayakers have been able to race every weekend if they wanted to, since they were children — it’s another level. We [New Zealanders] have to be a bit smarter about how we do things with our training. Being able to train all summer here after being in Europe for their summer helps.

Finn Butcher at home in Alexandra.
Finn Butcher at home in Alexandra.
Q What are your next goals?

Everything I do is with the big view of being selected for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but there are other things I want to get done before then. I want to win a medal at next year’s under-23 event, and I want to be in the top 20 at the senior world championships.

Q How do you juggle training, competing and studying, as well as the all-important finances of international sport?

It’s a bit of a struggle, and I’m trying to be more organised and regimented to keep on top of things. I’m fortunate to have this year been "carded" by High Performance Sport New Zealand. The carding means I receive all types of assistance such as planning and medical assistance, and even in terms of sports psychology, which helps me understand how I work, then I can plan and train around that. It’s opened my eyes even more to what is required to be a professional athlete. Mum and Dad have been super helpful and I couldn’t do it without them. I’ve also received some grants in New Zealand, and last year I received a Prime Minister’s Scholarship, which pays for my university studies and a living allowance. I’m studying part-time towards a bachelor of sport and exercise and hope to have finished that within 2 to 3 years. But the paddling is what I really want to do. That’s the thing that every day goes on my planner, and then everything else fits around that.

Q You started out with the Central Otago Whitewater Club, which has punched far above its weight nationally and internationally over the years, producing many successful kayakers. To what do you attribute the club’s success?

I think it’s all about the community, both the kayaking community and the wider Central Otago community. People just love the sport of kayaking down here [in Central Otago], for a little town [Alexandra] it’s just massive, and Gordon Rayner in particular has done so much for the club — you could call him my mentor. I realise more and more how sport in New Zealand is all run by volunteers, at a real grass-roots level.

Q How are you feeling as you move off to your next round of training and competition in Europe?

I’m pretty positive and pretty confident with how I’m paddling and how things are progressing. All the opportunities really excite me. There are doors opening all over the place, which is awesome. But whatever I am doing I never forget that I come from here [Central Otago] and this is where it all started. Even though I’m training overseas and in Auckland for so much of the time I still say I’m from Alexandra.


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