Pair overcome odds to earn Games selection

Justina Kitchen will make her Olympic debut in kitefoiling in Paris. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
Justina Kitchen will make her Olympic debut in kitefoiling in Paris. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
Late last year, Justina Kitchen’s Olympic dream seemed to be in tatters when a freak training accident left her facing up to a year on the sidelines.

Nine months later, she has overcome the odds to make that dream come true, and the Auckland sailor will make her Games debut in the fastest sailing class that will be on display in Paris.

Lukas Walton-Keim.
Lukas Walton-Keim.
Kitchen and Lukas Walton-Keim were named to the New Zealand team yesterday and will compete in the women’s and men’s kitefoil events, which have been included on the Olympic sailing schedule for the first time.

Kitchen ruptured both her ACL and MCL only days before the European championships in Weymouth in September.

"I was preparing for the regatta, which was one of our Olympic selection events, and it was just a very bad crash. In five years of kitefoiling, I’d never landed in that position before.

"The board flipped over, which would never normally happen, landed on my leg and dislocated it, bending it backwards the wrong way."

Some specialists recommended surgery and up to a year on the sidelines, but Kitchen, the daughter of double Olympic yachting medallist Rex Sellers, refused to accept defeat.

"I can remember being a very small child and my dad going to the Olympics and, as a preschooler, deciding that’s what I wanted to do", she said.

She was introduced to kitefoiling by husband Chris in 2018, after taking a break from sailing to get married, finish her degree and start a family.

Kitchen missed out on selection in the windsurfing class for the 2012 London Olympics after having a third reconstructive surgery on her shoulder and switched to kitefoiling after the International Sailing Federation (now World Sailing) announced windsurfing would be replaced by the new class in Rio de Janeiro.

She was again disappointed as the governing body made a late U-turn, reinstating windsurfing for Rio 2016 some months later.

"It’s been quite a long journey but experiencing the highs and lows of two previous campaigns has made me mentally stronger", Kitchen said.

Walton-Keim has also had to fight hard to make it to Paris.

He spent much of 2023 off the water following surgery to repair a torn right meniscus he had been battling for more than two years.

"It is a big relief to finally get to this point and to have the opportunity to represent my country at the Olympics", Walton-Keim said.