The ending of one year and the beginning of a new one is the catalyst for people setting themselves new targets, aspirations and ambitions for the next twelve months. If you’re a young athlete creating your own aims and ambitions for 2017 and contemplating how you can take your game to the next level, planning an invaluable trip abroad could be the answer to your New Year conundrum.
There are a number of fantastic sports gap year programmes offered by Sport Lived. One of the most popular and rewarding of them is found in the second largest city on New Zealand’s South Island, Dunedin. The city is steeped in sporting history and is an immensely popular place for visiting sportsmen and women from across the globe. You can get a better idea of just how brilliant a city is for sport by looking at the talents who have emerged from it down the years. With that in mind, here are some of the great athletes who took their first steps to stardom in the Otago region’s principal city.
Ritchie McCaw – Rugby Union
When you think of New Zealand rugby and the All Blacks, the name Ritchie McCaw instantly springs to mind. The great man captained his country to two consecutive World Cup triumphs, amassing 148 caps, 110 as captain, over a 14 year international career in which he established himself as the finest openside flanker to have ever played the game. And he was born and bred in Otago, honing his skills at Otago Boys High School in Dunedin from the age of 14. The man who won a record three World Rugby Player of the Year awards and more international caps than anyone in history spent his crucial formative rugby years playing on the rugby pitches in Dunedin, representing his school’s first XV and gaining national attention for the first time. Today, in rugby terms, the city of Dunedin is known for housing one of Super Rugby’s top sides, the 2015 Champions The Highlanders, current All Black stars such as Ben Smith and Aaaron Smith and one of the most impressive rugby grounds in the sport, The Forsyth Barr Stadium. Yet many are unaware that it also played a pivotal role in developing one of most defining individuals to have played the game of rugby.
Alison Shanks – Cycling
Perhaps the success achieved by the Great Britain cycling team has made us take for granted just how difficult it is to excel consistently at the very top in such a competitive sport and win medals at major championships. New Zealand are a modern day force, despite having won only one Gold medal in their Olympic history, and one of the key individuals in elevating them to that status was Alison Shanks, who retired in 2014. Born in Dunedin and a graduate of the University of Otago, Shanks went on to win Gold in the 3000m Individual Pursuit at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. By that time she had already established herself as one of the premier female cyclists after gaining two Golds during the 2008-09 World Cup Series, a Gold in the 2009 Track World Championships and agonisingly missing out on a Bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Her ability to keep on performing at the highest level was admirable, shown again by another World Championship Individual Pursuit Gold earned in 2012, this time in Melbourne. And if all this wasn’t enough, she had an immensely successful 5 year netball career for Otago Rebels before she had even raced a bike. Shanks remains a flag bearer not just for New Zealand cycling but for the city that helped form the supreme athlete she became.
Nathan Cohen – Rowing
The Otago University Rowing Club is one of the most celebrated and oldest rowing clubs in New Zealand, having been founded 87 years ago. And it just happens to be based in Dunedin. Of the many excellent athletes who rowed and competed there, one ended up becoming a two-time World Champion and Olympic Gold Medallist. Nathan Cohen may have originally grown-up in Christchurch but his time in Dunedin was vital, coming during a time when he went down in history as being New Zealand’s first ever winner in any event at the World University Championships. He may have won two consecutive, and mightily impressive, World Championship Double Skull Golds but the seminal moment in his career arrived during London 2012 when he won Gold in the same event, four years after just missing the medals in Beijing. He and partner Joseph Sullivan also broke the world record during their heats. Their achievement was voted as the country’s favourite sporting moment of 2012. With illness forcing him to retire at just 27, one can only wonder what further success stories could have been written by one of the finest oarsmen to come from New Zealand.
Brendon McCullum – Cricket
It is a rare thing for a sportsman or woman to transcend their sport and become national icons. Even more so for two to come from the same city. As well as the previously mentioned Ritchie McCaw, the famous cricketer Brendon McCullum is another New Zealand legend with Dunedin roots, having been born in the city itself. He attended King's High School in Dunedin, along with his brother Nathan who also played cricket regularly for his country, and has represented the Otago Volts since 1999. Widely respected and revered throughout the game and one of the best batsman to have ever taken to the crease, he left a chasm behind when retiring from international cricket in February 2016. McCullum, who captained his country in all formats of the game and led an attacking revolution in how to play Test cricket, scored more than 12,500 runs in international Test and ODI cricket, involving 63 half-centuries and 17 hundreds. He is also still comfortably the leading scorer in T20s, being the only player to have scored two T20 International centuries and 2000 international runs. He is without doubt one of the pre-eminent sportsmen to have been produced by New Zealand.