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All Black captain Richie McCaw might be taking a six-month sabbatical from rugby, but that did not stop him pursuing his other great passion in Omarama yesterday.
McCaw and his cousin, Alex McCaw, were among 30 entries in the New Zealand gliding championships at the Omarama Airfield, and although the flanker said he was used to getting a buffeting and still coming out on top on the field, he was not expecting to lift any silverware at the end of this competition.
He said he had been gliding regularly since 2006 but the national championships were only his second competitive outing.
''Just like in any competition, you have got to get round - that's the first thing,'' McCaw said.
''The main thing is just to finish, but we will be going as fast as we can.''
Pilots at the national championships will compete in four glider classes on a 377km course between Omarama, Cromwell and Macauley.
Race director Ralph Henderson said the competitor with the fastest time would be the overall winner, but there would also be tasks and manoeuvres to perform as part of the test.
The McCaws, who were competing in the 15m glider class, had their one and only run at the course yesterday. Mr Henderson said they would have to wait until the last day of competition on January 12 to find out their final placings. Already a qualified glider,
aircraft and helicopter pilot, McCaw said he had been brought up in a family with a strong aviation background, and had been interested in gliding since he was a boy.
''My dad flew, and his brothers. The North Otago Gliding Club was on our farm in Kurow when I was growing up and I was always trying to hitch a ride.
''I'm pretty passionate about flying and I have my own glider, which I own with my dad. It's good fun.''
McCaw celebrated his 32nd birthday on New Year's Eve, after enjoying a family Christmas in Christchurch, and had a new year jet-boating excursion in Wanaka.
With no rugby until July, he said it had been the first time for a long time that he had really been able to enjoy the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
''It's so nice to have this time off, and not be thinking, `jeepers, I have to be back in shape'. It just means I don't need to worry about being fully fit by the end of January,'' McCaw said.
''I always keep in shape. I'm not going to let myself go - I have worked too hard to let that happen.
''It's nice, though, just to be able to do it on your own terms.''
He said he now planned to take a two- or three-month holiday away from New Zealand, ''just to forget about rugby for a while''.
Although he had not finalised arrangements, he said he was ''keen'' to visit the United States.